Disturbing Pickles and the Macro-Mouth shot

die flies!

Mental Pickling

Last night I was pickling 3.5 pounds of jalapenos reflecting that the tingling in my hand was the result of completely ignoring the instructions to wear gloves while processing hot peppers.  The thought that sprang into my head next was this:

I may as well have been holding hot peppers between my bare butt cheeks for all I seem to care about discomfort.

Thanks, brain, for that delightfully whimsical image.

All kinds of weird things are going on in my kitchen.  Wrong things.  Like the pickled green tomatoes I’ve been working on for two days.  Yes, two days.  I’ve never limed anything before and this recipe I started following said that liming the tomatoes is absolutely necessary so I did as I was bade and what resulted was creepy.  I’ll discuss this over at Stitch and Boots, obviously, but I save all my truly inappropriate stuff for Better Than Bullets, so I thought I better get this out of my system here, now.  The last step before pickling is to soak the tomatoes in hot vinegar for six hours.  This morning I lifted the lid and this is what I smelled:

Chalk piss with hint of dill*.

This is not evocative of deliciousness.

Other Unappetizing Things

Onward to another topic I’m dying to broach:  photographs of your child with food all over his/her face.

Disgusting.  I am so tired of seeing pictures of people’s kids on blogs where the kid has tried eating and missed their mouth by a cheek and a chin.  Smeared chocolate may  be sexy to some people, and funny to others, but to me?  It’s just gross.  It is never cute.

Which is why I regret having taken the classic photo of Max on his first birthday eating his first piece of cake.  He’s not a very messy child and used to go into a full panic if a drip of jam managed to escape his sandwiches onto his hand or face and since jam has a tendency to do that it was quickly expunged from his “acceptable foods” list forever.  Anyway, he did manage to get a little chocolate on his face and I did take that picture.  Looking back on it now I am confused about my motives.  Was it to embarrass him later?  Was it to gross out potential girlfriends in his teen years?

One thing’s for sure, it wasn’t because I thought it was adorable.

The Macro-Mouth Photo Nightmare

Mouths in the process of eating do not encourage me to eat.  They also don’t encourage me to get frisky (I keep bringing this up because of all the movie scenes where a guy gets all turned on by a woman “sensually” inserting food into her mouth while looking at him suggestively).  I once saw a picture on a food blog- a macro shot of a mustachioed mouth inserting a cracker into the hairy orifice – that almost made me not eat for days.  Every time I started eating my brain would flash that disturbing macro-mouth photo across my vision and I would have to walk away from the plate.

I recently saw a recipe on a blog prefaced with a gorgeously giant photograph of the blogger’s child “eating” the food presented in the recipe.  I think this was an effort to show how irresistible the food was: so irresistible that a baby will smear it across their head from ear to ear.  That’s clearly some damn good food.

What resulted is that I now will always think of smeared nasty food bits when I see that blogger’s recipes.

This should go in my unsolicited advice column.


We still have a ton of flies.  I talked with a local farmer who has over 50 chickens to find out if he has fly problems and he said this year has been heinous- that it’s the weather and that when the really cold weather comes it will kill off most of them.  I conclude that it’s not just our problem.  Now, if only we’d have a super cold winter with lots of snow and ice!

Not to kill flies, just to please me.

It’s been 58 inside my house most mornings this past week.  I love it!

My Rich Fantasy Life (it isn’t what you think)

As much as I cougerishly admire Robert Pattinson**, he must not be allowed to play the part of Grey Bonneville when a movie is made out of my book.

It is also crucial that Angelina Jolie not be allowed to play ANY part in the movie but especially not the part of Cricket who is not ten feet tall with pillow lips, huge boobs and skinny-ass scary veiny arms and legs.  I just wanted to make that clear right now.

Also: Cricket isn’t a man-eater like Angelina Jolie is.

How long has it been since you’ve heard that expression?  Since the eighties, right?  In that song?  Isn’t there a man-eater song by Hall and Oats or someone equally under-appreciated by me?

A Boring Bit of Business

I am suddenly reminded of a very boring bit of housekeeping I keep meaning to mention: because of the new way I’ve divided up my writing into separate blogs my blogrolls are different than they used to be.  For Better Than Bullets I’m trying to concentrate mostly on writing blogs (blogs by writers) and all my crafting/cooking/homesteading favorites are going to go on Stitch and Boots.  The reason they aren’t there now is because I don’t have a menu bar on that template to take you to the links page…the truth is, Stitch never got completely completed on it’s new template but I am planning to move it to WordPress like my other ones because I like wordpress much better than movable type.  It’s going to be a little while before that move takes place because this isn’t the kind of thing I can do on my own but as soon as I do I’ll have all of my  missing friends linked back up.  I’ve been meaning to tell you that because I don’t want you feeling dissed.  No dissing has occurred.  (Not with regard to blog links at any rate.)

17 Quarts and Counting

Among my other weird pickling adventures this year I have 17 quarts of pickled aphids.  Caviar of the garden!  Picture this: a delicately carved tiny spoon made expressly to scoop tiny mounds of shiny aphid-caviar onto garlic rubbed crostini… perhaps a little creme fraiche would be dotted on the toast as well… green mounds of minuscule garden jewels for people who are bored of eating, who are bored of all food and need a break from their increasingly stressful ennui.

You know those black kinds?  Those would cost twice as much as the green kind.

Aren’t you hungry?

Would you like the mustachioed cracker stuffed macro-mouth image back in your head?

I live to serve.

*The vinegar had been previously infused with the essence of dill heads which, if you must know, was the result of soaking all my dill heads to remove the aphids so as not to repeat the 17 quart canned aphid disaster.  I then strained all the insect and plant detritus from the vinegar to be used for pickling.  Are you scared to eat my pickles now?  The good ones, I mean.  You shouldn’t be.  I’m much more scrupulously clean and insect-free than any commercial canning facility that you readily eat products from.  Yes, they don’t strain out all the insect bits.  Not kidding.

**I’ve got no cougar instincts but I had to say that didn’t I? Today is say-creepy-shit day.

Can I ask: Who are you?

Today I picked 74 eggplants, 3.5 lbs of jalapeno peppers, and 34 lbs of tomatoes (both red and green), and just like every other day I’ve spent picking produce at my favorite u-pick farm, I find complete clarity in the wide expanse of flat fields full of abundance, of promise, and of satiation.  It is extremely primal to be surrounded by food growing straight up from the soil, to pluck it from the earth and carry it against your chest to your home where it eventually placates your winter hunger and reassures you that starvation is still just Tuesday’s nightmare.

I think a lot while I’m picking.  I love it best when I have music with me to help distill everything into notes and guide my meditative thoughts into salubrious channels.  I forgot my music this afternoon which means that I spent a little more time talking to myself out loud than I like the crows to notice.  It was just myself, the crows, and a small crowd of morning doves out there in the autumn fields.  The crazy lady with the birds; can there be a better symbol of my madness than a stand of corn from which a rash of black squawking birds rises in chaos?  I was talking to the green tomatoes about how many ripe, un-frost-damaged red ones were left on the vines like a freak abundance of nature going to waste which I couldn’t let go to waste even though I swore to myself I wasn’t doing any more red tomatoes this season…

The green tomatoes answered back with blemish and blush and between us all the birds cried out against the breeze and the quiet that commenced was like a great peace asking us “Who are you?”

My thoughts were more calm when I began to pick the eggplants, oblate, tight, and smooth with the kind of shine that reflects future sunrise.  I heard myself repeating the question “Who are you?” over and over to every interesting person I’ve ever met that I didn’t have the guts to really ask that question of.  It brought to mind one of the best people I’ve ever met and someone with whom I’ve had the  most honest discourse possible between two people with very different cultural backgrounds.

When I was a design assistant I got to train a new design assistant named Cam who was first generation Chinese American brought up in Oakland.  All my life I’ve had an affinity for Asian people I can’t pinpoint.  Maybe it’s because my hippie parents were mostly Buddhist (my dad studied to become a Tibetan monk in Tibet for a while) with just enough ex-catholic and ex-jewish guilt to keep them from floating off to the Eastern continents.

In a completely unrehearsed and quick fashion Cam and I found ourselves able to meet each other honestly and without offense inbetween our cultural differences.  She could make observations about white people without giving offense, she could show me her view of race, her experience of racism, of cultural divides, and it came from such an honest place, such a raw and real place that it never occurred to me to  be offended and I could do the same with her.  I could ask her if it was just my white-ass misconception that lots of old Chinese ladies smell strongly of mothballs and she would tell me her take- (no, it wasn’t my white-ass misconception, lots of old Chinese women fill their closets with those gnarly chemical moth balls)- we could discuss, without rancour or disrespect, what it means to be first generation Chinese American and what it means to be first generation hippie American.

Cam is a rare and wonderful person who sated my racial curiosities which don’t come from a place of suspicion or bigotry but rise from the genuine desire to ask everyone I meet “Who are you?”

You can’t ask that question without wanting to know what a person’s racial, religious, sexual, social, and cultural experiences and backgrounds are.  You can’t honestly ask that question without wanting a context for a person, wanting to know truly what makes them tick and what drives them forward every day.  We ask people superficially who they are every day but if you really want to know a person you have to be able to know why they love men or women, or why they’re scared of Germans, or how they came to Islam even though their background is white wasp.  You can’t have an honest discourse about who a person really is if you can’t ask the questions you really want to ask without being mistaken for a bigot or a homophobe or an impertinent ass.

I was thinking about this today because I have discovered that someone I know superficially (but haven’t seen in a long time) has undergone a tremendous change and I don’t know how to approach it.  It’s a sensitive issue for which there is no guidebook.  I’m troubled by my inadequacy in a situation that isn’t common enough for Emily Post to have formed a poncy opinion about.  In fact, I don’t think it’s a situation that even existed in her lifetime.

Someone I know and haven’t seen for a long time has undergone a sexual transformation from a female to a male.  I want to talk to him.  I want to acknowledge him and the incredible change she’s gone through to become a man.  Is there a polite way to say “Hey, I notice that you have grown some serious facial hair since we last met and while I liked you quite a lot as a woman I’m sure I’ll like you just as much as a man…how are you doing?”

What do you say?  What is the polite way to approach someone you like and respect who has assumed a completely new identity which is so different from yours?  Where do you start that conversation?

I couldn’t help but wonder if everyone was like Cam and me wouldn’t it be much easier to find our commonality?  Wouldn’t race issues and gender issues be so much less fraught with misunderstanding?

What if I could just say “Hey, I notice you underwent a sex change.  What should I call you now?  Can I ask you questions?  Should I reintroduce myself as though we’d never met or are you essentially the same person now except with the addition of facial hair and possibly a penis?  Who are you?”

What if every person had a chance to tell their story and be heard?  What if every person’s life experience was listened to and respected?  What if we all had a place and we could ask each other questions, personal and poignant questions, not to alienate or divide but to come to a greater understanding of each other?

It feels lonely to me not to be able to ask black people I meet what their experience of being black is.  It isn’t widely invited.  Sometimes I feel that the thing everyone needs to do is to talk about our little gritty details with each other in order to come together.  We have this incredibly connective human sameness and we make the greatest divides between ourselves sexually, racially, and culturally.  Sometimes I think a lot of our division would melt away if we were allowed to ask each other the questions we really want to know.

I worry about people who have undergone sexual reassignment.  I worry about the danger they’re in being so very different.  I worry about the loneliness of not being understood by the majority of other people in the world.  I can’t say how but I understand what it feels like to not feel right in your own skin, to feel you weren’t born with the right body or the right parts.  I am so worried that a person like me, who is compassionate and empathetic to those who have undergone sexual reassignment, can have no clue how to approach the subject with someone I know casually who has gone through this tremendous change.

I am intolerant of many things: willful ignorance, bigotry, smallness, racism, and homophobia.  I am uncomfortable with how much hate rises in my chest when I hear Asians referred to as “zipperheads” which, by the way, I actually don’t understand.

I can’t in all honesty say I am without my own prejudices.  I have a fairly fierce prejudice against organized religion, the more cultish the more fiery the prejudice.  Even so, I have found my way to loving and appreciating many religious individuals.

In the end, I wonder, how much more understanding could we all reach together if we were allowed to really ask each other “Who are you?”

Do you want to know who I am?  Ask.  If you ask with genuine curiosity without malice I will answer you as honestly as I can and not be offended.  Want to know what it’s like being mentally ill?  I would rather I tell you who I am and how being mentally ill permeates my life and have you come away knowing more about mental illness (and me) than you did before.  Want to know what it feels like to be a fat woman who can’t see her own hoo-ha?  I will tell you.  Want to know what it feels like to  be a one-kid-mom in a community of four-or-more I will tell you and I won’t give you the sanitized version.

How can we know how to talk to each other if we can’t ask each other who we all are?  Nothing is obvious.  How can I know what’s it’s like to be a first generation Chinese American if I can’t ask honest questions about race and culture?  How can I dissolve my own ignorance if no one will give me the knowledge to replace the ignorance?  How can I know what it’s like to be a gay male couple outside of San Francisco if I can’t ask you what it’s like?  If I can’t ask the silly questions that you’re tempted to think are too stupid to be worth answering but which tell me so much and give me so much context for your particular cultural and sexual experience of the world.

I’m  more shy than I appear to anyone.  I’m afraid to hurt, to offend, and to ask the wrong questions.  I’m afraid to be willfully misunderstood and contorted.  I want a world of peace but not of homogeneity.

So how do I address the cross-dresser who isn’t gay, the transsexual who is, the Asian who grew up in a very different Bay Area than I did, or the straight Christian who’s actually quite nice but doesn’t drink or swear (WTF?!), or the bipolar woman who punches me in the face but didn’t mean it when she’s on her medication again, or the gay restaurant owner in the conservative little town who thinks his gayness is a secret?

Can I ask: “Who are you?”

Word Files: Toddler Words

Many things get under my skin but one of the most insidious is the feeling I get when an adult seems to relate to all-things-child more than they relate to other adults (who aren’t kid-centric).  This whole trend (and it IS a trend) seems to be mostly my generation, probably getting revenge on what they see as a lost childhood due to latchkey lives and the great grown up love-fest that was the sixties and seventies.

Words have a lot of power in all of our lives.  What words we choose to use says a lot about how we’re feeling at the moment, what our social background is (or what we wish it was), and what kind of people we are.  Our use of words is personal, except when it isn’t.  I have often wondered how many people realize how they sound to others just based on the words they use?  I also wonder if people understand how their use of language may prevent opportunities from coming their way or prevent others from giving them the attention in life that they deserve.

Being an avid blog reader I couldn’t fail to notice the incredible trend for writing “mommy blogs”.   There are thousands of mothers writing blogs about their day to day experiences raising children and the majority of them call themselves “mommy bloggers”.

Mommy is an infantile word.  It’s what children often call their mothers.  It’s something they stop saying when they mature because to continue to call your mom “mommy” is baby talk.  I know adults who still call their moms “mommy” and it really creeps me out.  It says that a person hasn’t developed a more mature relationship with their parent, that they have never really grown up.

For a blogger who is only blogging for fun and to meet like-minded people, who cares?  You can refer to yourself as “mommy” all day long and you’ll be in good company.

The problem I see is that a lot of the  “mommy bloggers” consider themselves writers, they express a desire to make money from their blogs, and hope to write books eventually.  If you want to be taken seriously as an expert in parenting or as a writer with something interesting to say to a broader spectrum of people, you are going to have to drop the toddler talk.

First of all, you should refer to yourself as a parenting blogger.  This signals that you are into children, you’re raising them, but you aren’t wishing you were one of them.

Then you should clean out all the words your toddler says or that you say to your toddler when you’re speaking or writing to non-toddlers.

Here’s a good list of infantile words to consider replacing in your writing:

mommy (why not refer to one’s self as “mom”, or “mother”, or “a parent”)

yeppers (makes me think of the loud chirping bark of a chihuahua)

yuppers (because “yeppers” wasn’t enough)

oogly (I’ve seen it appear on an embarrassing number of times on parenting blogs)

lil (this one is also a southern affectation I find creepy)

yummers (this is fine for talking to your three year old, but other adults?  No!)

nom nom (you must check out this link: 10 truly awful words because he took the words right out of my mouth!)

nummy (“nummy for my tummy” comes to mind,  I never even talked to my toddler like that!)

yummy (a word many people use and I even caught myself saying it out loud the other day- totally insidious!  Fine for kids but adults can do better, myself included.)

tummy (okay for use with kids, but stomach is better when talking to adults.

golly (stupid word people think they’re using “ironically” in place of swear words.  It’s just stupid.  Even when The Beave said it.)

giggle (This is a hideous word when adults use it.  When adults say they “giggled” it makes me sick to my stomach.  The word is for children only- no-  not even for kids.)

om nom nom (worse and worse!  Will the food eating noises never stop?  Want to actually hear me chew my food?  NOT YUMMY.)

googly (Sometimes paired with “oogly”.)

scrummy (supposed to be yet another variation on “yummy”)

poop (I may be a mother but I’ll be damned if I need to hear “poop” talk anywhere)

poopy (it’s surprising how many women use this word in their parenting blogs)

snarfle (how a Snuffleupagus eats, the muppet comparison in the 10 truly awful words list is irresistible)

fluffers (like rainbows and clouds and fat men scarfing down cotton candy)

snoogly (I just made that one up because that’s the way these awful words are created)

I think that makes the point adequately.

Here’s the truly disturbing thing: I’ve seen many of these words used on food blogs where the writer is really working hard to be taken seriously.  How can I take any cook seriously who calls a dish “scrummy”?  Aside from it’s resemblance to the word “crummy”, it also sounds like a silly childish version of “scrumptious” which also happens to be a horrible word used mostly to describe the fat cheeks of babies.

I realize that many people use these words to revisit a time of “innocence” along with their children, to enjoy the fleeting wonderful journey of parenting, and that it is meant to reflect their connection to youth and joy in all things sweet and unthreatening.  If that’s really who you are and that truly reflects where you’re at and you use those words intentionally – then who cares?  Use them!

But if you want to be taken seriously in a professional capacity of any kind, these words are not going to earn you any respect.  They are not the words of an adult.  They aren’t going to convince me you’re the expert of anything, not even parenting.  If you want to write a book for other adults then you need to talk like one.

Words are powerful and when used intentionally will help you get where you want to go (wherever that is), but used without thought or understanding may be holding you back from things you want to achieve and opportunities you hope will come your way.

I would like everyone to think more about their use of words and what they say about you.   We have a rich language at our disposal, it’s a shame to let so much of it go to waste on un-words like “om nom nom”.

Update: Another article on this subject has been written on one of my favorite food writing blogs Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob, The Worst Food Writing Words

So, if you didn’t listen to Rich at Them Apples, and you didn’t listen to me, then surely you will listen to a writer/editor who’s worked in both print and online with food writing and writers for years?  She has links to another article about the same subject and I’m going to put it right here for you:  Top 10 Foodie Words We Hate, by the LA Times The only reason I didn’t do a post specifically about food words I hate is because everyone keeps doing it for me.  So if you’re not a serious writer, who cares what any of us have to say?!  But if you’re a serious writer, especially a food writer, then you should be taking notes and pulling out your dictionary and thesaurus to find better words than

An extra thought: If I want to write a character for a story who is a woman completely wrapped up in her children to the point where she herself is childish, little girly, and unsophisticated, as well as immature- I would use many of those words in the above list in her dialog because it would signal to readers exactly that kind of character.  We all sound like characters to someone else.  What character are you?

A Shoulderful of Stones

I’m going to try really hard to hide from myself the fact that it is twelve am.  This is when I turn into a circus act almost as horrible as a mime and become excessively emotional, commemorative, and fly my flag half mast on principle.  I’m trying to dive into writing the second chapter of the book but I’m distracted by: Jon Stewart interview segments from the past 13 years, the fact that the second chapter needs to not suck and the pressure pushing in at me, the need to curl up and watch either Cadfael or Will and Grace, the certainty that I suck beyond measure, and the memory of the one and a half grilled cheese sandwiches Philip made for me this evening.

I’m distracted by music, pen, rain, tomatoes, the rustle of dry paper, time, popular culture, the flies, and the hour.

I know what I mean to say but can’t find a good sentence anywhere because I’ve spent all day cleaning the dead flies off the porch, cleaning the kitchen, making tomato soup, processing tomatoes for sauce, listening to the Beatles, and thinking about bigotry and plotting my rise above it all.

There is the intention of the path:  to underscore with my black sharpie thoughts that no matter how terrible life is there is always something just a little better than death and on the best days there is euphoria in the smallest details like watching tiny birds chatter over the red hot poker flower stalks and in laughter between friends and loved ones.

There isn’t a goal for fame or ridicule.  There isn’t a goal to make a million dollars.

Two out of those three things would be awfully nice and I wouldn’t say no to them if I achieved them.

But that’s not the goal.

Why agonize?  It’s just words.

You wouldn’t want your car mechanic to take that attitude.  “It’s just an engine, why agonize?” You wouldn’t want your lawyer to say “It’s just litigation, it’s just a question of jail or no jail…”

That’s why I agonize.  Because words matter.

I am struck by a youtube video I saw of Harlan Ellison talking about paying the goddamn writer and the fact that everyone wants writers to write for free.  What hits a nerve for me in this is that words matter almost more than stones.  My kid said the other day how stupid he thought the saying “Words can never hurt you” is because it’s wrong.  I told him the saying is relying on a literal interpretation and he said that was total bullshit because words hurt people all the time.  (He didn’t actually swear.)

It’s true.  Language has the power to detonate rage or ignite it, to destroy families, to dissolve relationships, to inspire death, to cement enemies and to declare world wars.  It also has the power to bring unlikely people together, to convince impossible partnerships, to heal old scars, to express dreams, to encourage the hopeless to hope, and to inspire inexhaustible love.

Language is as potent as vision, as potent as art.

In most ways I’m a good multi-tasker but when it comes to the writing I have to be more obsessive.  I can’t divide myself endlessly.  What I’m coming to understand is that I have to dive into the book as though it was the only world, the only voice, the only thing I know outside the essentials.  Would you expect anything different from a doctor: that their attention be completely on the medical issue at hand?

I have to stop piling the food preserving projects on myself.

I have to close myself off to all other distractions and immerse myself in the grave, where Cricket and Grey begins.  I have to ask myself to write the story that I would be excited to find on the shelves of the bookstore, that I would want to have as my own.  I have to ask myself to write the story I’ve been missing my whole life and that others have been missing too.

Like a shoulderful of stones.

I only have to write the words you’ve been waiting to hear for your whole life.

It’s time to fold away the tomato projects, the pesto, the sauce, the ratatouille, and the grilled eggplant for freezing.  I want to sock away more preserves.  But I want to write more than I want to eat.

The 2 am Club of Future Saints

It wasn’t beauty radiating in the 2am strobe lights where darkness lives a half life.  It wasn’t the youthful potential of generals and maidens lining up with mugshots, front and center, waiting for discovery of greatness.  It was the great trawling of hopeless souls into one net where drink, madness, and syringes punctured each other relentlessly.  It wasn’t beauty that drove souls to the last bus on 7th and Market where the homeless rub wooden beads obsessively before handing them to strangers for luck.

It wasn’t about beauty, and it wasn’t about hope either.  In a soup of crying and gutting skin there was so little hope that the hallways buzzed cold florescent and bore witness to more than one assault.  The grimy dark carpet resonated with a thousand Bukowskian nights gone wrong, gone sideways into one kind of prostitution or another.  It was witness to the shy building blocks of dreams come riding through impossible dust, across a desert of silence, from as far as the terrible Dakotas to the Barbary coast of ghosts.

No need to call home.  It wasn’t about who you left behind, it was about who you saw dying in the cold stone church corners, godless and shoeless near the curb.  No one asked who your mother was but everyone wanted to know where you found your stones of faith and where you bought your suicide knife, because we were all waiting for it.

No one asked who hit you.  No one asked who molested you.  No one asked who attacked you under your skin and tore your arteries to useless ribbons.  They all waited to see your blood under the bridge.  They all waited to see you bleed again because people like them, people like us, it’s what we do.  Wait long enough and it will come like a flood down scarred skin.  Under the bridge or in the derelict parking lot against broken windshields and excavated tires, this Jesus of your imagination is the one holding a knife to the fragile throats of tomorrow’s poets and artists.

It wasn’t beauty running in rivulets onto asphalt; oiling and coagulating simultaneously.  It wasn’t beauty ringing bells for the 2am club of future saints.  Beauty doesn’t sit on Polk Street begging money for forty ouncers of Olde English.  Beauty doesn’t cling to a Byron-esque dissipation without taking, first, pledges for complete ruin.

It wasn’t conventional beauty, it was something more magnificent and fragile.  It was about seeing underneath the skin of people.   It was about never letting go of the wooden homeless man’s gift of beads at 2am in San Francisco because he thought you needed them more than him: a man with nothing else on earth to give.  There is no memory of his skin, of his origin, of his mother, of his sexual predilections, there was only his ability to see right through skin to the heart and his ability to give away the only thing he had of value to a gutted poet who was old at seventeen and half dead already.

It wasn’t about beauty.  It was about something more powerful than beauty.

It was about love.

Healthy Versus Unhealthy Obsessions

This has been one of those days when I’m acutely aware of my obsessiveness which makes me wonder about good obsessions versus bad obsessions.  Everyone would agree that obsessing over a person to the point where you stalk them is unhealthy.  (Everyone except stalkers, who feel much better when they’re stalking than when they’re chewing their cheek in front of Fox News drinking a Bud.)  I continually come across people who don’t really “believe” in mental illness, as though it was some outrageous new religion and not an illness or a dysfunction of one of the most important organs in the human body.

A couple of weeks ago we were eating out at our favorite local pub and had requested a booth.  We were willing to wait for a booth because none of us like eating out in the open which feels like eating in the middle of the Serengeti full of predators and hungry dinner-plate sized arachnids.  The waitress made some kind of comment to us because once in the booth we also had to assume our usual positions: Max always sits on the side from which you can see the door, next to his dad and I always sit across from them.  To do otherwise causes us all great uneasiness.  The waitress told us she was kind of OCD about things and totally understood.  Max launched into a hearty explanation about how he and both his parents have OCD and have to have things exactly the same every time, like how things have to be the same size and not messy and we can’t sleep without grey noise and how if it weren’t for the blessed tranquilizing power of dvds we’d probably all be in jail for weird crimes.

The waitress gave Max the look, the one that draws a straight strong line between her and us- she only meant to use the phrase “OCD” to indicate a kind of vague nod to being a particular kind of person.  She didn’t mean to lump herself in the same corner as an entire family of crazies who have clinical mental illness and are more than happy to share their many many many many (etc) micro daily obsessions with space, order, and routine.

You can be like me, understand what it means to fixate on something, and still not be OCD.  But if you really are obsessive compulsive you will most likely experience discomfort with your obsessions so I think there really is a line but I like to think that comprehension can cross lines.

I am the fly assassin this week.  That fly problem: still out of control.  I declared war.  Either the flies go or the chickens go to make the flies go.  Which means the flies go, no matter what.  Fuck the flies!  I’m not squeamish about bugs in general but I’m obsessively freaked about them specifically in large numbers.  In great numbers they take up all the space in my brain.  The coop is being cleaned regularly but the flies persist so I started spraying their flying clouds with Mrs. Meyers cleaner thinking it might kill them.  It didn’t, but it afforded Max great enjoyment and would have got him obsessed too but I saw the early signs and told him some lame reason why he had to stop spraying the flies.

Monday I spent almost all day standing on my porch observing the flies.  Trying to kill the flies.  Single-mindedly fixated on the problem of the flies.  When I wasn’t on the porch I was busy doing online research about methods of fly control.  I started using the swatter.  I made an immense discovery: flies go to sleep on the ceiling of our porch at dusk and are slower as it gets colder.  I started actually killing in numbers.  It felt like victory.  I could barely attend to work, to food, to Kung Fu, to feeding my child, or to showering.  Yet in the morning there seemed to be just as many as the day before.  It seemed impossible, mathematically, to deal with such a swift breeding population and panic has been in my chest for two days.

I imagine this is how the crust of the planet earth feels about humans beings.

I have thought of almost nothing but the flies.

I haven’t even been able to write much or particularly well because so much of my mind is flooded with the fly situation, the problem of the flies, the panic of the flies, the death of the flies, and the feeling that I might end up giving up on this house just to get away from the fucking flies.

Cut and run!  Evasionary survival tactics!

Every single time I go downstairs I HAVE to step out to the porch wielding the fly swatter and see what I might find and kill.  Today the constant compulsion to engage in that one activity made me uncomfortable and got me thinking about obsessive minds and obsessions in general.  It also made me tired.  Tired of my head filled only with flies.  It feels unhealthy.  This new obsession.  It feels unhealthy like the dermatillomania* which is disturbing, incessant, and uncomfortable on enough levels to make me want to crawl out of my own skin.

I like to think there is such a thing as a healthy obsession; little obsessions everyone engages in which cause no mental or physical harm, like always sitting facing the door in a restaurant, checking that the stove is off five times (as opposed to fifteen), and not being able to sleep until you’ve prayed that George Bush will yet become so poor he has nothing but ramen to eat and ill-fitting Goodwill suits to wear to interviews for jobs at Texas fast food joints or that he has to go fight the war he started.  These things are all fairly innocuous, aren’t they?

I think all people have some little bit of obsessive behavior or attachment to rituals, it’s human and connective, so theoretically all people could understand what it might feel like to have every activity in life become a potentially unhealthy obsession.  However, the majority of people still don’t get it.  They lack extrapolatory* powers.  They can’t imagine such a normal tendency to observe ritual being out of a person’s power to control.

I think there are healthy obsessions.  Obsessions that can’t hurt anyone and can give much comfort and pleasure.  I will often latch onto one song and listen to it obsessively for 24 to 48 hours***.  I use my headphones so as to not make my family require visits to imaginary padded cells.  It hurts no one.  It makes me happy.  To find a song that suits a mood, that possibly inspires and elevates enough to bring something forward in writing or even just in my body- it’s pleasure and then when it becomes less pleasurable I can draw the line.  I admit that sometimes I have to force myself to change the song long after the mood has shifted but I don’t know what to replace it with.  Healthy obsession, for the most part.

Often obsessive interests are what lead people to achieve great things.  Scientists obsessively focused on one question are the ones curing diseases and answering the seemingly unanswerable questions of the universe.  Obsessions in color and texture lead people to create groundbreaking art and music.  Obsessions with narrative voices, words, and something itching to be writ has given us the best literature on earth.  You can’t achieve any of these things without a certain amount of obsessive aim.

I consider myself a member of a truly gifted group of human beings who constantly have to battle the line between healthy and unhealthy obsessiveness.  It’s deeply uncomfortable at times, but like Max, I am unrepentant in my openness and acceptance that this is the way I was made and it doesn’t reflect a moral failing in me.  This is the trick of my backwards wired brain.

It just occurred to me that I have always lived in houses where the previous owners did a lot of their own plumbing and electrical work.  Every single time we’ve had a plumber in to fix something they have the dubious joy of discovering that everything has been plumbed backwards and by hand.  Not to code.  Not regulation standards, not boot-camp material.  Our pipes are hand soldered and leak, the toilet is fitted wrong and can’t be unfitted, the circuit breaker lies and wires extend out to the neighbor’s house where we can’t see their dining room light turning off and on every time we toggle the switch that doesn’t seem to control anything in our own house.  Mysterious pipes that seem to have no function and the pipes that have personality disfunction and try to be wires.

This is my brain.  My houses always seem to be physical reflections of my brain.  I wonder if that’s true of anyone else?

Days like today are uncomfortable, but I’m not feeling the least bit sorry for myself.

When we go out to the pub the wait staff comments on us, they seem to enjoy us.  We enjoy them.  We are friendly, accept who we are, live with it, work with it, and they say that every time they see us we are laughing and smiling more than any other people they see.  No one ever forgets what we want because we order the same exact thing every single time.  We’re easy.  We love to be in each others’ company- we are used to each others’ quirks and obsessions and we try to be easy about the mild ones and coach each other when the less healthy ones take hold.

If I win the war against the flies (and I’ve got the diatomaceous earth now, Ann) and they reduce to the normal numbers for any yard with chickens, I’ll be out there obsessively stalking them long after such an obsession serves a useful purpose.  I’ll have to find some way to reset myself.  I’m okay with that, but it’s a curious way to live life.

*I have been saying this out loud a lot more lately because I believe the only way to make these issues less potent is to bring them to the light.  It’s like admitting to being a leper in the 12oo’s.  It isn’t cool, but how will anyone ever figure out that it’s curable if they won’t even acknowledge it exists?  Even if it isn’t curable, wouldn’t it be a better world in which mental illness and its insidious manifestations were the kind of thing we can talk about easily like bad haircuts, the death of punk, and cancer?

**I made that up.  I think it’s solid.  Though I originally wrote it as “extrapolative” and I kind of like it better…but it’s too hard to choose at the moment.  This will give someone great fodder to hurl at me when I post my advice to think very carefully about what words you choose to use.

***Yes, I’m still listening to “Clocks” by Coldplay.  I’ve tried to switch gears a couple of times but essentially it’s been “Clocks” since Sunday.  It’s Wednesday.  I could easily have listened to it a hundred times already.

Chasing the Wild Berry

Last week I took off in the middle of the day on my scooter, flying down long straight country roads, the insects hitting my face like high velocity spit balls.  I like to go very fast.  I had with me a pair of rubber boots, long parrot cutters, a grimy reusable grocery bag I hesitate to call “cloth”, sunglasses, sunscreen, and my camera.  I was headed to Meadow Lake Road where I had seen two big elderberry trees on my way back from shooting.  Being on the hunt for something wild is exhilarating.  An excuse to ride alone on those back roads never fails to fill me with a sense of being cut loose.

I may or may not have found the trees I actually saw.  I did find two elderberries but they were much smaller than what I remembered and their spot was more dubious than I thought, growing on a steep bank at the side of the road covered in russet poison oak.  There were workmen on that road not too far from where I stopped which impaired my comfort as I prefer to do my foraging in private, just me and nature.  I put on my wellies, and strode across the road with my dangerous long handled cutters in hand and gently coaxed the trees to bend to my will and give up their fat umbels.  I left plenty for the birds.

I got a modest bag and that was prize enough.  Collecting food and medicine does something marvelous for my nervous system.  It acts as a tranquilizer to my otherwise constantly fretting mind.  I think the busy-work preparing food in great quantity requires is soothing to my OCD.  Plucking tiny elderberries from their spidery stems is such a peaceful activity I fantasized about doing that every single day for the rest of my life.  I could be a one woman elderberry processing facility for the county.

Problem is, they only ripen once a year.  Right now.  I have six pounds in the freezer and about four pounds (maybe six) getting drunk in hundred proof in the cupboard.  I want more.  I have foraging greed.

Philip took a bicycle ride on Sunday and almost never made it home because he literally got lost.  That kind of thing happens more often than you’d think in Oregon.  As full of people as the Northwest is, there are so many tiny roads that don’t lead back home, or to anywhere, though maybe some lead to freakish one-tooth whiskey parlors in the woods… he was lucky to run into hunters who could tell him he was headed for nowhere and a long way from home.  Max and I were a little freaked when he finally showed up, ready to throw books at him for taking so long and throwing our routine off.  However, he came with the excited report that he spotted several huge elderberries on his way back.  His excitement couldn’t have been less than mine and even Max was pleased at the thought of another foraging adventure. I couldn’t help but wonder if his trees were really as big as he thinks they are.

Philip wants to make wine.  The rest is for medicine and “medicine”, if you know what I mean.  Hundred proof is great for coughs.

Tonight I have dragged out a box of walnuts from the freezer a friend gave me last year that have to be shelled.  I need room as my squirrely habits have caused my somewhat bare freezer to become uncomfortably squeezed.  This is the highlight of my night: cracking walnuts.  I love doing it.  Repetitive work with a food prize.

Next week we all get our purple belts in Kung Fu.  At our school that’s half way to a black belt.  Not in time, because each belt takes longer to achieve than the last one, but in rank.  I have to say I’m pretty pleased and proud to have made it even this far.

I have so many things jetting through the rooms in my head.  The fact that I loath the recently made up expression “bomb-diggity” is fresh and alive in my head.  Can’t get it out. Having read and become enraged by the word “golly” in a post somewhere last week is something I need to address in some way.  “Golly” is a horrible word.  It lingers in my mouth long enough to grow tendrils.

Yesterday I worked all day long on my hub site.  The site I want all of you to send to agents and publishers you know who will want to publish my work.  I needed a site with my own name on it from which all of my projects and blogs might be accessed.  I needed to write a bio for myself to explain who I am.  I worked all day on it while I really wanted to work on the book.  This is important though.  If I tell someone who I am or send out five hundred query letters there needs to be one place to access everything I’m into.  Want to see it?

visit the angelina williamson siteAngelina Williamson Hub Site

Go ahead- check it out.  Wait!  Please notice that I learned how to name my photos so that when you hover over the picture it makes sense.  I don’t usually give my pictures names that make sense, for example; I might name a self portrait of myself “fuck you!”.  Wouldn’t it be surprising to hover your mouse over a picture on a blog and see “fuck you!” shouting back at your mouse?  But wait!  There’s more… I also learned to link photos to other places.  Go ahead and click on the picture.  Please?  I worked ALL day on this project.  Let’s call it the office work of a writer.  I don’t have a team of publicists and slaves to write my bio for me or build me websites.

I actually think that might be a benefit to me rather than a sad fact because in order to find out how other writers present themselves I visited several of my favorite author’s websites and I have to say that most of them were ugly.  There is no excuse for that when you have a team of publicists and slaves.  The bios were really boring except for Laurie Notaro‘s.  I wrote my bio in third person because all of the other authors’ bios were in third person.  So I figured that’s the professional approach.  Then after I was done I remembered to check out Notaro’s and wished I’d read hers first.  Third person bios are really poncy.

Writing bios is an ugly business altogether.  It’s easy writing one for a personal blog because you figure you’re talking to people like yourself who want the real version: the personal, wild, crusty, honest version of who you are.  I’m not sure agents and publishers are looking for the same thing.

I have been listening to the Coldplay* song “Clocks” nonstop for twenty four hours now and I’m just now beginning to feel a new music mood come over me.

I have just been reminded about something that’s been bothering me for several years now that I have kept silent about.  I have a contraction issue, I think.  I keep wondering if it’s some bizarre neurological glitch?  I have a colloquial, casual, and fairly modern writing style yet I don’t contract words that most people do.  I write “can not” constantly where a “can’t” would be cleaner.  Speech with few contractions is more formal.  I don’t understand it and I constantly try to fix it and I have to admit that it feels like a glitch rather than a choice.  I am annoyed.  I’m annoyed.  Jesus!

Has anyone else noticed this and wanted to suggest a little more consistency with my contractions?  I am forced to wonder if this is my “style” and acceptable as a personal quirk of speech or if it’s something I’m going to fight editors over when I have editors to fight with?  If I’m the only one to notice it then it must me another example of my genius madness.  It feels like a constant little itch I can’t get at. Which is how most things in my brain feel.

Cadfael and walnuts await my pleasure.  There are a lot of truly bad coifs in Cadfael, but I am in a medieval mood.  Perhaps because of all the elderberries.  And no, my father doesn’t smell of them.  Derek Jacobi is incredible and though the production value in this series is fairly low, I find it completely enjoyable.  Perfectly suitable for watching while shelling walnuts for winter eating.  I’ll want to run off and make some simples at midnight.

One more thing before I go- I have decided it’s good luck to see the same beautiful Mennonite woman twice in one day completely randomly.  I feel a conversion coming on: those caps are so fucking cute!!  Truly.  God must have good taste.

Oh wait, he apparently created everything which means he’s also responsible for spandex biking shorts, baseball jerseys, and sleeveless fur vests.  Never mind.

There’s nothing like a crisp white mesh bonnet for your bun.

*The Coldplay website was so ugly I linked to Wikipedia instead.  What’s up with so many ugly websites?  These people have money to pay good designers to make  them a pretty site.  They have obviously not heeded my advice about black back grounds.  I know that the last Dustpan Alley header was black with yellow type, technically a no-no.  However, I defend it because a black header with color print may, in some circumstances, be good design, but an entire blog in black with color text is impossible to look at with any ease or enjoyment.

Pork butt and whores: my brain has no filter

This apple has no relation to this post except that it might be a nice accompaniment to roast pork butt.  Do people serve pork with apples so often because pigs are big fans of eating apples too? Seems a little mean, especially when pig heads are brought to the table with an apple in their mouths, that’s the most surreal food garnish ever.

My brain never stops talking to itself all day.  This is why cooking is so soothing to me, it allows me to concentrate on something enough so that the chatter in my head is blurry and indistinct for a while.  Sometimes it feels like there’s me, and then there’s my brain, both talking at the same time.  Generally speaking, this all goes on inside my head and no one knows just what an understatement it is to call me a chatter-monkey, because they only hear the stuff I let outside.

What is my brain saying?  Is it directing me to kill people?  Or to play pranks on bank managers?  Do I really believe I’ve got two distinct voices in my head and one of them isn’t me?  (Admit it, you think I might be schizophrenic don’t you?)

I was making eggs for myself just a little while ago and I was concentrating on the anticipation of eating an heirloom tomato lightly seared in my frying pan into which I would then pour my eggs when the chatter-monkey in my head, who had been going on and on in the background, grabs my attention with this gem:

Whore away, little friends!

What?  Turns out my brain is busy playing with the word “whore”.  Whore-ific.  Whore-tastic.  Whore town.  But I’m pretty sure that before it started fixating on the satisfying punch of the word “whore” it was actually playing out some little imaginary scene and in this scene someone said “Whore away, little friends!”

I’m not actually schizophrenic.  Nor do I have multiple personalities.  The narrowly averted danger of that road was passed many years ago.  I will say that if you are a person who has a hard time understanding how it feels to be mentally ill and you have a hard time understanding why a person like me gets freaked the hell out by little details such as surprises, you need to get into my head.  You’ll understand why I have such a hard time holding it all together most of the time and why medication has vastly improved the quality of my life (it doesn’t make you high, sadly, but it quiets the brain down so you can function better).

Here’s how I think I can explain it best: The extra voice in my head is my subconcious mind which I’m not supposed to be able to hear working.   If you’re not mentally ill then your subconscious mind is one that you can’t hear except for in your dreams.  You filter it out because if you didn’t: you’d go crazy.  Stimuli comes in, you have your thoughts about it and you move on to new stimuli while your subconscious brain then processes the information quietly that you’ve set aside so that you can keep paying attention to what’s going on around you in the ongoing present.

I hear my  brain processing information all day long.   For example: I take in a conversation I’m having with someone and as I move forward with the present having my conversation, my brain is processing everything too, but in a crazy non-linear way.  It takes something it needs to file (that’s just been said) and throws it around in monkey-pants and glitter to see where it should go in my brain storage, or if something bothers me about the conversation I’m having it will replay the conversation to try out different ways it could have gone, or fixates on something it can’t get past: WHILE I’M STILL HAVING THE CONVERSATION.

If that doesn’t make sense to you then you may rest easy knowing that you are not mentally ill.*  What a joy for you to not have to listen to your own subconscious mind talking and processing stimuli every single hour of the day like a toddler on crystal meth.

All of that just to explain how come weird phrases frequently jump into the forefront of my head, seemingly from nowhere.  Things like “whore salad”.  Or “If my hand was cut off the whole world would be quiet.” or “Watch out for teeth that move!!”

The constant clamor in my head is obnoxious and exhausting.  This is why I often have to watch movies for three hours at night in order to go to sleep.  A while ago my Kung Fu teacher was telling us how studies have shown that our brain activity while watching television is the same as a brain in a coma.  I wanted to shout out “That’s why I love it!!!”.  He meant to point out that it makes us brain dead.  I want to point out that as a therapy tool for someone whose brain NEVER SHUTS THE FUCK UP watching television is like a spa treatment.  Sometimes it’s really really deeply truly (I can’t emphasize this enough) vital for a brain to shut off, to be completely void of activity.  Especially if it often gets less rest in sleep than it does in waking.

When I watch movies my whole brain is distracted so that the voices are quiet.  Really quiet.  It calms me down, it brings me peace, it stops my anxiety and soothes depression.  But mostly it just brings the quiet to my head.  I don’t have television but I usually watch at least 2 hours of dvds at night before bed.  Often things I’ve already seen a hundred times because that soothes the OCD.

Right now my brain is fixated on weird cuts of meat.  As a lifelong vegetarian it’s not normal for me to hear things like “skirt steak” or “pulled pork”.  Meat cuts and meat preparations give me a great deal of visual amusement.  Pulled pork is obvious, it brings up visuals like a cook pulling at a pig and the pig is just thinking “wtf?” and the cook is figuring that if he pulls it long enough the pig will turn into a delicious sandwich.  Or else maybe there’s a big hunk of dead pig and a cook is pulling on it to shred it instead of using a knife.  I annoyed a friend over “skirt steak” for days.  Steak in skirts.  Doesn’t anyone else think that’s funny?

Today’s meat words that I can’t get out of my head are “loin chop” and “pork butt”

That’s food?  Loin chop just makes me think of a very painful Kung Fu move.  Or worse.  Much much worse.  Axes and blood and Jesus-style cloth.

The best, though, is pork butt.  PORK BUTT.  Once I saw it in one place it started showing up everywhere like the world is trying to short circuit my brain.  Imagine if people were cattle and cattle were people.  This is a favorite past-time of mine.  Human butt.  “I think I’ll have a little braised human-butt.”

“Don’t you know, Agnes darling, the human butt is the best cut of all.  Very juicy and tender if you serve it up with just the tiniest dollop of whipped butter and chives.  Horace simply can’t get enough but the vet said he needs to cut down or his cholesterol will blow through the roof.  Pass me that dish of braised grass, won’t you?”

*Or that your mental illness is VERY calm and different than mine and I envy you very much.

Me and My Colt 22

This is how bright the trees and sky felt to me, though this picture has been exaggerated for effect.  I didn’t bring sunscreen because it was so foggy when I left home in the morning that I couldn’t see twenty feet ahead of me.  I got so burnt I’m still hurting two days later.  It was at least 82 degrees and glaring meanly all day.

I don’t own a colt 22 but I spent 3 hours shooting one in a blindingly hot little clearing on Kutch mountain.  Saying “Colt 22” sounds the same to me as saying “Jordache Jeans!”, it has an eighties quality to it.  If I was to own a pistol it wouldn’t be a Colt anything, I’d own a Smith and Wesson M and P (9 mm).  Among other things I learned this summer in the research for Cricket and Grey I spent almost eight hours looking up different kinds of semi-automatic pistols and at the end of the day when my kid asked me one of his favorite questions “If you could only have one weapon in the whole world, what would it be?” and I said without hesitation “I’d have a Smith and Wesson M and P .40 caliber because although the Sigma seems solid, the M and P is an improved version of the Sigma.”

Those words did come out of my mouth much to the astonishment of my husband and son who are constantly throwing the names of guns at me knowing I don’t have a clue about any of them.

Until now.  It’s like I trashed the flimsy walls of their boys’ club.

Thank you Wikipedia.

Conifers of all kinds wrap the roads in the hills around McMinnville and in most of western Oregon.  They aren’t as tall as the redwoods of California but they’re more dense.

It wasn’t my intention to go shooting twice in the same calendar year but my attendance at the “Fire and Steel” seminar put on by my Kung Fu teacher and his Lawyer Terry (also a Kung Fu student) is due to winning a bet.

Shooting and betting.

Terry, the man who taught me to shoot the last time,  challenged me to solve a puzzle that evolved out of a conversation we were having about weapons of choice in which I was explaining that I am not a gun person.  I have no desire to own a gun.  Even after having fun shooting one for the first time.  Terry doesn’t think there’s such a thing as having too many guns strapped to himself any time he leaves his house because you never know when you’re going to have to fight an army single handedly in McMinnville.

I spent weeks trying to discover what influence connected slungshots, Portland history, and China together.  A historical puzzle over which I spent many hours googling for obscure weapon information.

I learned that Portland Oregon was considered the most dangerous port in the world in the 1800’s because around 1500 people disappeared without a trace every year from the city.  As it turns out, people were being “Shanghaied” through trap doors in taverns and dragged to ships where they were taken out to sea with no option to return and were put to work on the ships.  Slungshots are obscure nasty weapons that can do a great deal of damage to a person quickly and are easily concealed.  They started off as a ship tool before becoming a favored weapon of sailors doing evil work stealing people.  So in the Oregon concealed weapons code it is stated that you can’t carry a slungshot concealed.

Bet not too many other people had the chance to say “Monkey’s Fist” this summer.

The “Fire and Steel” class was all about self defense with both your gun and your knife.  There were drills (which I didn’t participate in) where your partner jams your gun and you have to pull your knife on them in a timely fashion or be gutted like a giant wild salmon.  This was a six hour class held in the Oregon wilds with at least ten people all carrying a minimum of two knives and two guns each with no bathrooms, barely a road out, possible gun thieves hiding in potential bathroom spots waiting for an opportunity to ambush groups of shooters, and two intense teachers promising to yell at you if you don’t follow safe gun protocol, and also promising to teach you how to lead an army for the second coming of George.

This is the real Oregon.

Sambucus Caerulea is an elderberry that is native to the Northwest.  They’re very pretty with the white bloom on the berries making them appear light blue in color when ripe.

I’m not a big fan of lethal weapons*.  I don’t live a life of fear.  I did that for most of my early life and there just comes a point where I think you have to balance preparedness, awareness, strength, and also letting the fuck go because you can have an entire compound full of explosives and still wind up dead from other people’s explosives like some people in Waco Texas had the misfortune to discover.  Or maybe it was just as they wanted, a kind of poetic justice to live by the gun and die by the gun, as the saying goes.

There are some things I know about myself and one of them is that I don’t want a gun in my house; not your gun, not mine.  I know that having a gun of my own would be antithetical to who I am and if there’s one thing I know in this world it’s who the hell I am.

I will freely admit, however, that shooting guns at a target that doesn’t have arteries is pretty satisfying the way throwing darts or making goals in soccer is satisfying.  I can’t throw darts well or make goals in soccer worth talking about, but shooting a gun feels comfortable.  It feels natural in my hand.  I like aiming a pistol and I like the sound it makes when I pull the trigger.  I am fascinated by how the sound doesn’t match up to the tiny shreds of paper blowing up into the air on impact.  I find it satisfying to have my teacher (a good friend of Terry’s named Louis) show me which groups of bullet holes are close enough to be considered good.

Louis may have been exaggerating just to make me feel good but he told me I was a great shot.  My Sifu and Terry seemed to think I was pretty good too and those two men NEVER LIE, so I’m pretty sure I acquitted myself with respect with that Colt 22 that I don’t own.

It doesn’t add up.  I realize that.  I don’t want guns in my house but it felt natural and good shooting one.  I think it’s more about doing something well that I don’t believe I have it in myself to do well.  It’s about making the shot.  Or landing the punch.  Or nailing the page to the hall of great writing.  It’s almost impossible to hate doing something once you find you can do it well.

The day wasn’t all shooting for me.  I was lucky I got to participate in the class and I enjoyed myself quite a lot.  There was a highlight of the afternoon that had me freaking out with excitement for, well, I still haven’t gotten off my high of excitement at the discovery of wild elderberries up at the clearing on Kutch mountain where all this fierce rugged manly stuff was going on!

I couldn’t get at a lot of them but I brought a bag home and on the way back I saw more elderberries on the side of the road.  HUNT!  When I catch a sniff of forageable fruits or herbs I become extremely single-minded.  I sent Philip out yesterday to pick some more for me while I struggled to begin the great albatross around my throat: the second draft of the book.

He brought me back a large bag of them.  This weekend’s haul is what you see in the bowl in the picture.  Wild medicine.  Wild food.  Native berries.  Free.  The best natural medicine for influenza for free.

It’s grey here a lot of the time (a fact that makes me very happy) but when the sun opens itself out across the landscape it becomes an impressionist’s verdant painting of light-points.

I truly enjoyed the strange blend of violent pursuits and the quiet peaceful art of foraging wild medicinals.  In so many ways it reflected the inspiration for the book.  This Oregon life is pretty rough around the edges.  It’s full of sharp contrasts and contradictions.  Oregon has got me shooting, betting, and picking wild berries from native plants.

I promise I’ll never wear chaps.

While Oregon has managed to make me more wild around the edges, it has failed to charm me with extreme politics.  If anything, it has given me the gift of being more certain than ever of my social and political beliefs while it’s teaching me to live among people who are violently opposed to many of my ideals.

Northern Oregon is still the wild west.

I’m frankly surprised that prostitution isn’t legal here.

What quickens my pulse still, what I dreamt of all those years I was away from Oregon in the dry hot California brown hills was the lush green blurring past you on the road everywhere you drive here.  I missed the smell of the air which is cleaner and sharper with the constant resinous tang of conifer sap.  I missed the way the light makes an underwater green against the velvety dark of thick underbrush.  I missed the moss that covers so much of the damp ground.

People get lost in our mountains here every year during the snow.

Wild, wild west.

*My Sifu loves to point out that anything can become a lethal weapon, but I refer to those “tools” that are specifically meant to kill other beings.  Guns weren’t designed to hammer houses together with the added bonus of efficacy at killing people you don’t like, they were made for the very specific purpose of flesh annihilation.  Sure, you can kill people with a screwdriver, but they are also very useful in making things.  You can split hairs if you like, but I’m pretty sure my meaning is clear.

My Spiritual Latenight Skivvies

I made a vague promise to myself not to write late night posts anymore.  I reduce to my raw element past midnight.  It isn’t quite eleven as I start this post but I know that I am already down to my spiritual skivvies.  If there is anything blogging has brought to people it’s an immediate unadulterated honest and raw view of human life in process which allows us to connect in ways we find it difficult to connect in our everyday community.

Something has shifted today.  I felt it in the air, definitively.  Life is wild; it shifts and changes course on a dime and none of us can predict what ride we’ll be on tomorrow that we never dreamed of today.  So there is essentially only right now.  There is always right now.  I don’t know what twists will wake me from my groggy Saturday morning stuperous sleep and I’m not worried about tomorrow.  Instead I am still tasting this queer, almost frightening deja vu that began this late afternoon.

Perhaps it was the unseasonable warmth and mellow fall light that stirred up a completely unexpected visitation of a past spirit.  Everything was subtly draped in a familiar light; a California late afternoon with the lingering warmth that always begs you to open another beer and sit on the stoop chatting to neighbors who are taking their constitutional in the gorgeous gold evening.  You smell the antique roses from where you sit and you speculate about whether or not the couple across the street has a relative chained up in the basement and laugh because it’s impossible that in a whole neighborhood there should be not a single Mister Rochester.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or next week.  I don’t know what new challenge will accost me when I can least deal with it.

That’s just it.  I have matured enough (finally) to understand and accept that it keeps on coming.  I have let go of outcomes to some degree.  The things I thought were most important for years have proved much less important than I could ever have imagined they could be.

Rewind.  Rewind.  Rewind.

Something powerfully subtle has transpired in the quiet.

Five years ago something in the universe started keeping the wrong time.  A gear got bent by a thirty-secondth of a fraction of a fucking infinitesimal unmeasurable tiny-ass millimeter.  Ever since then everything has been exactly that fraction of a fucking infinitesimal unmeasurable tiny-ass millimeter off.  I’ve been pissed off for a long time.

Until this summer.  I took a break.  I wasn’t particularly zen in my break.  I didn’t visit the Dalai Lama (because we’re still pretty fucking broke as a matter of fact and my trip to New York might be the last trip I ever get to take) and I didn’t wear a dirndle in the fresh clean icy Swiss alps reclaiming my milk-maid vibe…

This summer I just turned off all the conduits between my brain and the outside world and listened to myself.  I realized that there’s a damn good chance that we won’t stay in this house.  That life will be location-transient.  I had to accept this because there was no other reasonable course but to accept whatever might come our way.

I had to come to some kind of peace with whatever outcome life might dole out.  Proper medication at the beginning of the summer greatly increased my ability to achieve peace in myself and unknown outcomes.  The universe seems somewhat perverse when it comes to me.  Maybe it’s in love with me but is ashamed because I’m not a supermodel and so it plays with me in mean little shoves and sharp corners.  I let go of that too.  Just means the universe is reflected in me.

I let go.  In the quiet, I let go.

Today something shifted.

Five years ago Philip and I sat on our fabulous brick front stoop watching neighbors pass by on their constitutionals on the balmy July evening asking ourselves what it meant that he just got laid off from the best job he’d ever had.  We drank beers while our somewhat troubled child slept fitfully in his cheerful room in the house I had come to believe I would grow old in.  I loved it that much.

We sat drinking beers, stunned, and yet I had no idea what was coming.  I had no idea how far we would drop before finding solid purchase.  I had no idea that I would lose the life I had come to believe was the life I’d always wanted to live.  It was perfect, except for the fact that it depended on solid good paying work, which evaporated for so many people besides us.

I remember smelling the roses.  My beloved antique roses.  I remember the light my porch shed across my sunset pink stucco porch and how mellow, rich, and warm it was.  I remember believing that somehow we’d make it all work out.  We were hard working people.  We’d find solutions.

Still.  Still, there was a feeling of being cut loose on the world.  A feeling that something had broken in the gears of our life.  That time would never be accurate again.  Something shifted that night as we sat drinking beers, stunned, enjoying the security of a life we built suddenly thrown into possibly permanent transition.

I only weighed 165 pounds that night.  I wasn’t fat.  My house was reasonably clean every week.  My garden overflowed with amazing vegetables and we fit in where we were.

Reminiscing is the staff of human existence.  We mark time this way, so please forgive me.

There was something on the air that night that told me, on an instinctual level, that life had shifted and that we were no longer on the path we’d meant to be on.  I felt this strange grip on my heart and my spirit like something had gone out of focus.

Today I felt a great shift in the air and in my bones and both are in focus again.

It’s as though the past five years have been an odyssey and I have just come back from it.  The air suddenly smelled right, and felt right, and the clock was keeping the right time.

I don’t believe in God.  Not like most people believe in God.  If I tried to tell you what I believe it would be a convoluted mess of Hippie drug visions mixed with arbitrary (selective) attractive Buddhist tenets and the best concepts from Hinduism.  I’m sure if my parents had been exposed to Islam at the time they would have embraced at least some part of that as well.  I don’t believe in god.  I do believe that sometimes life becomes out of balance and we have to go through fire trials and struggle to keep our skin on as we fight for air in hell.  Life can be like that and it isn’t personal.

Except that it is.  If you’re suffering there’s something to know, something to overcome, something to grow out of.

I have lost a lot of skin but today I didn’t mourn.  Today I looked at my two guys and knew that I was lucky to have two totally crazy creative genius maddening different and sweet guys to share my life with.  Today something shifted and it was huge.  Something that couldn’t budge for five years because I needed to grow.  All three of us needed to grow.

Max is almost ten now and is the most amazing child.  I am not an amazing mother but I know him, I understand and appreciate his spirit and every day is about not crushing him, not folding him into a drawer.  I tell him to give me space to write my book and he asks me how my book is going.  He is proud of his mother that she is a book writer.  My wee son who used to threaten to kill himself when he was two.  He is now working on a “book” (about 5 pages long!) and tells us he is happy that his dad is an artist and his mom is a writer.  I know I’ve done well by who he is.  No one else can judge that.  I know.  I see how I’ve done by how comfortable he is being different.  Being a kid with obsessive compulsive disorder and ADD, he shines.  He is proud of who he is in his best moments.

Everything needed to unfold exactly as it did.  And there is no going back.  There is only forward.

Today the clock was wound for the first time in five years by an unseen hand.  I felt it as the minutes caught up.  A queer otherworldly sensation of being hastened to a gate I couldn’t see.

We went out to dinner tonight and that’s when the deja vu of a different life struck me the hardest.  Looking at the two boys I love best in the world in this strange light, a light both spongy and ethereal.  Max, confidently being himself in all his strange glory knowing that here, between us, he is the most loved person.  Just as he is.  Philip, having pushed forward in his own development was peculiarly calm and happy.  These are my people.  Something moved back into place that had been out of whack for five years.

Time has begun again.  We sat on our ghetto steps leading down to our weed choked ghetto yard and drank beers.  The air was exactly as it was that July night when Philip came home with the news that would alter our lives so dramatically.  This time no dramatic news prompted us to sit there.  Something has shifted, an ephemeral little something, an unquantifiable something that only comes to you when you have evolved a step further.  When you have let go of things that aren’t essential.

My ideal life divorced me and it was messy and now I’ve remarried and finally the fallout has fallen, the anger has dissipated, and what’s left is this new life with my old spirit returned.

The air was queerly intimate, smelled like my life before the great falling.  Tonight I feel like I have been returned to myself.

In the end it’s nothing but bathos.

Something essential has been returned to me tonight.

I’ll never stop loving that pink house, my snug but wonderful kitchen, my amazing neighborhood.  But it’s  a thing of the past and didn’t unlock the fiction, the growth, or the understanding I now have.  There’s no going back.  We came here because we had specific things to learn.

Something shifted back into place today.

Between me, the rams, the clouds, the deep carpet of wet sinking moss, and the fighting spirit that keeps climbing up the hill and doesn’t see the cliff.

I am returned to myself.