Thursday, November 25, 2004

The Truth About Fishing

The walls around my desk are covered with post-it notes: scraps of shiny, sparkly ideas that line my office like a magpie's nest. One note bears the handwriting of my fishing partner, Ruth. It says:

5 Truths

Apparent truth

Real truth

Spirit truth

Shadow truth

Fairytale truth


Unsaid truth

It's a useful way to examine many angles (and the many truths) of one thing: a job, a relationship, a goal, a problem, an unplugged phone. Here is the truth about my messy office.

The Apparent Truth (How does it look from the outside?) -- Disaster. Thousands of small pieces scattered in loose piles. On one side of the room, a preponderance of books, paper, magazines, computer, words. On the other side, art. Oogly bits of disconnected stuff that I can't bear to throw away. Twenty-six yards of ivory ribbon. An old peanut butter jar full of sea glass. Four unfinished wooden boxes. Rubber stamps, colored pencils, chalk, paints. Piles of colorful paper scraps. A shoebox of found images. Thirty-six tumbled marble tiles. A bag of yarn. Ten feet of cork.

The Real Truth (What it is it really like for me, on the inside?) -- Comfortable and comforting chaos. I like being able to see everything at once. The rest of my house is spare and uncluttered; everything in cupboards and drawers and closets, put away for the sake of serenity. But in here, everything is out for the sake of creativity. Strange juxtapositions abound. A Peruvian quilt next to a ticking clock. A black and white checkered napkin holding 30 round, colorful marbles. Pictures of Kokopelli tucked into an angels calendar.

The Spirit Truth (If this were serving a spiritual purpose in your life, what would it be?) -- A form of worship. I'm not a traditionally religious person, which is code for "I don't know what the heck I believe but I'm trying to figure it out." But the one thing I do believe, deeply and without question, is based on one verse in Genesis: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." To me, being created in the image of God means we (unlike the animals) have been given the unique gift of creativity, and we're obligated to use it wisely and well. Squashing my creative spirit is wrong, even sinful, because it dismisses the most important gift God has given me. Conversely, using my creative spirit is almost a form of worship.

At the risk of getting all woo-woo, my messy office is like church for me. Here is where I create. Writing for me is a lot like prayer - an effort to understand, forgive, be grateful, grow. I need it the way I need air and food and water.

The Shadow Truth (What is the dark side, the thing you don't want to admit you're getting from this?) -- Guilty pleasure. Everything I do in my office - writing, doing art, working on genealogy, staring out the window - feels like playing. I can breathe deeply in here. Every minute in my messy room is an immense indulgence, and it feels like guilty pleasure. Why do I feel guilty? I don't know, and I wish I didn't. But it's hard to admit how happy I am when I'm all by myself playing in the middle of my creative mess.

The Fairy-Tale Truth (If this were in a fairy tale, known or unknown, what would it be?) --The Secret Garden, the story of a girl who is lonely and adrift until she discovers a hidden, untended flower garden. By tending and restoring the garden, she also tends and restores her heart. Now, I wouldn't describe myself as lonely and adrift. But I don't know any fulltime parent who doesn't feel isolated and at times consumed by the world of home and children. This messy room is my secret untended garden. It's where I remind myself that I still exist, where I can create beauty or just sit among the weeds and look at the sky.

The Unsaid Truth (What remains to be said?) -- I want more, more, more. I don't spend nearly enough time in here, and when I am in here I feel guilty, as if it's stolen time. I need predictable time, to know when I can shut the door and for how long. I also need to give myself the gift of permission - to play, to be messy, to just be. I have the power to give these things to myself. Why don't I do it?

And now ... your turn. What is your truth?

posted by Marjorie
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Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Our last musical adventure began with a shriek, followed by a haunting melody. But just to mix things up, MomBrain's music fest last night began with the music and ended with much screaming. This is because I had to relearn the lesson that every beginning musician knows: Thou Shalt Not Chew Gum While Playing.

It began with the garlic - four cloves of it, in the lovely pasta and feta cheese dish I made for dinner. In my rusty musical retirement, I'd forgotten that it probably wasn't a good idea to eat garlic immediately before singing with other human beings. No time to brush! I popped a stick of gum and ran off to rehearsal.

You need to know that MomBrain is blind before her time. Reading sheet music requires reading glasses. But I cannot see the conductor without peering over the tops of the glasses or removing them entirely. Listening to the conductor's lengthy directions, I took off my glasses and hung them from my mouth. But then, with no warning, she launched eighteen third-graders into "The Crawdad Song" and I couldn't see the music. I pulled my glasses from my mouth only to see a long string of chewing gum stretching from the earpiece. I tried to pull the gum off, but now a sticky triangle of gum connected my left hand to my glasses to my mouth. Crapcrapcrap. If we hadn't been in a church I would have said the F word, third-graders be damned. Four measures of piano silence went by before I jammed the glasses onto my face and willed my sticky fingers to fly, mama, fly over that keyboard!

You get a line and Iíll get a pole
Iíll meet you down by the crawdad hole
Honey! Baby!

End of song. End of all hope. Off come the glasses, and now there's a wad of gum behind my right ear that is still connected to my glasses. Holy crap, there goes the conductor again launching into "Accentuate the Positive" and I know I'm doomed so I jam the glasses back on and finish the rehearsal wondering if peanut butter really does take gum out of hair, wondering if anyone saw me stretching gum around like silly string, wondering if the conductor will make me write sentences for setting a bad example. I will not chew gum in rehearsal. I will not chew gum in rehearsal. I will not chew gum in rehearsal.

posted by Marjorie
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Monday, November 22, 2004

Sister Sky Goes Undercover

Observant readers will notice that I have removed the NaNoWriMo link to The Amazing Adventures of Sister Sky. This is because I have grown too fond of Sister Sky and her mother, Candy Valentine, to subject them to an all-out sprint to 50,000 words by the end of this month. Oh, I could do it. Sister Sky could memorize the Old Testament. Candy Valentine could fondly remember an epic poem about Vikings crossing the north Atlantic. Heck, Sister Sky could just fall asleep and have a vivid dream about her life as a newspaperwoman, with a link to Odious Woman's 48,000 word opus. "Then she woke up, and it was all a dream. The End."

I do intend to continue. Sister Sky is in a deep hole right now and needs digging out. And I will keep it online, so bookmark it if you care to follow along on my shitty first draft. You will be rewarded with guns, dead bodies, an intricate puzzle, and a real Web site where you can find your own Valley-girl horoscope.

posted by Marjorie
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Friday, November 19, 2004

Random Thorn

Is any one else angry that John Kerry's campaign has $15 million left from the Democratic primaries? Why didn't they spend it? They should have been $10 overdrawn the morning after the election.

Repeat After Me: NOOOOOOOO

Those who have known MomBrain since dinosaurs roamed the earth know that she plays the piano. I studied classical piano for many years, and finally quit when I realized I wasn't willing to work hard enough to make up for my lack of talent. Imagine it. Four hours a day all alone in a little room insulated with acoustic tiles. My back hurt all the time. My forearms ached. My hands and fingers were ice cold from playing so much. And I was beginning to hate something I had loved since I could remember. So, faced with a lifetime of playing Twinkle, Twinkle to a bunch of third graders, I did the sensible thing and bolted.

Now, more than twenty years later, I have stunning proof that we cannot escape our fate. A week from Monday, MomBrain will be performing The Crawdad Song with a third-grade chorus. Their usual pianist is AWOL, and somehow - despite Oprah's best advice to Just Say No - I agreed to fill in. Now, I know The Crawdad Song isn't exactly Rachmaninoff. But it still requires learning, and practice, and a black skirt. And there's the whole shoe problem, namely that I don't have any. Skirts require heels, but piano pedals require flats. It's an issue.

And now, rereading this, I realize that as a writer I often spend more than four hours a day alone in a little room. My back still hurts all the time. My arms ache, and my hands get cold from typing so much. But this time I don't hate what I'm doing. I run to my little room every chance I get. I hunger for it. I guess that makes all the difference.

posted by Marjorie
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Thursday, November 18, 2004

Here at MomBrain HQ we have kicked off the Season of Light with something less than holiday cheer. In fact, we launched the festivities with a Major Meltdown, in which MomBrain suddenly and deeply realized she was hosting three families for Thanksgiving dinner, a Christmas party in mid-December, and the Parental Units for two weeks over Christmas and New Year's.

The Big Guy hid all the sharp objects in the house while I doubled my meds and tried to stop hyperventilating. WHAT WAS I THINKING? I immediately resolved to simplify, prioritize, and wash many towels.

Resolution #1: Cater. Those of you with fond memories of Thanksgiving dinner have probably never cooked it. The planning, the shopping, the cooking, the cooking, the cooking, the dishes, the dishes, the dishes. What is Thanksgiving without tradition? EASIER. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners will be catered, plus whatever other people want to cook. And I'll have pizza delivered for the party in mid-December. I feel better already.

Resolution #2: Buy a fake Christmas tree. For over twenty years I have insisted on a real Christmas tree. The choosing, the schlepping, the sawing, the watering, the vacuuming, the dead tree on the side of the road ... what is Christmas without tradition? SIMPLER. I'll store it in my basement and buy the smell in a can.

Resolution #3: Shop 100% online. God invented the Internet for a reason, and that is to make Christmas shopping faster and easier. Who am I to ignore manna from heaven?

If you have other ideas about simplifying the holidays, leave your comments here!

posted by Marjorie
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Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Pretty in Pink

The Little Guy is all about cars and trucks, firefighters and superheroes. He's 100% boy. And yet. His favorite bedtime books are Forest Princess Barbie and Island Treasure Barbie. He wears pink swim goggles and pink boots, both of his own choosing. And left to his own shopping instincts, he always ends up in the girls clothes where all the bright colors are. And who can blame him? Even baby boys are stuck with brown, tan, and navy clothes, with an occasional red stripe. I'm not asking for flowers and kitty cats. But why can't boys wear yellow and purple? Pictures of animals (dinosaurs don't count)? Something, anything, besides jeans, sweatpants, and t-shirts? And how about an interesting haircut?

Perhaps it's time for the metrosexual influence to trend downward. Um, or not. I'm kinda scaring myself here. But really, why can't boys have fun with clothes, too?

posted by Marjorie
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Friday, November 12, 2004

When I was young, back when the primordial ooze was still warm, someone told me that a good Democrat has a heart but no brain, and a good Republican has a brain but no heart. And I've been thinking lately that somewhere along the line the roles have changed. These days Democrats vote with their brains and Republicans vote with their hearts.

This is like a very bad sequel to The Wizard of Oz. Imagine the Scarecrow with his freshly minted diploma and brand new brain, synapses bursting like fireworks as he spouts Einstein's theory of relativity. Meanwhile the Tin Man weeps real and copious tears as he holds his red ticking heart against his cold, metal chest. Actually, you don't have to imagine - just remember, because this is where Wiz I ended.

On to Wiz the Sequel. The Scarecrow, having filled his empty head and learned a thing or two, suddenly realizes he is heartless. He thinks hard about it, analyzes the situation and realizes he doesn't care. This is not the time for irrational decisions. So he votes for John Kerry. Meanwhile, the Tin Man, heartbeat echoing in his metal chest, suddenly realizes he is brainless. But he doesn't care. Who needs a brain when life is so beautiful (ahuh ahuh ahuh)? So he votes for Bush.

This of course begs the question: Who the heck is the cowardly lion? I have to say Ralph Nader. He's heartless and brainless, but the man has spine, you've gotta give him that.

posted by Marjorie
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Monday, November 08, 2004

NaNoWriMo Update

In an insightful piece of lit crit, my father has told me that Sister Sky needs to get down to brass keys. So she has. Today's installment features guns, helicopters, and one brass key.

Someone lob me another softball so I can take a crack at it.

posted by Marjorie
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Sunday, November 07, 2004

Shameless Self-Promotion
MomBrain must be on speed. What else could addle her brain enough to sign up for NaNoWriMo? What else could induce her to publicly embarrass herself by blogging her daily efforts? You may not laugh, and you may not cry, but you will definitely shake your head.

Check in every day or so to read The Amazing Adventures of Sister Sky. See stupendous feats of death defying courage! 50,000 words in 30 days! Can she do it? Hold on to your hats and watch those fingers fly! (Well, something will be flying anyway.)
posted by Marjorie
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It's a Small World
Last night, the Big Guy hosted a party for his academic colleagues. Among the guests were people from India, Japan, Finland, Israel, Spain, Germany, and Guatemala. We didn't plan to host an international party. In fact, I wasn't even aware of it until I took the fifth vegetarian pizza out of the oven for a line of waiting Hindis while directing the Finns to the European chocolate.

It was a friendly, educated, opinionated, talkative crowd, which made for an easy party. But the unfortunate refrain of the evening was "How can Americans be so stupid?" Now before you get your knickers in a knot, remember that these people are friends. Some of them have lived in the US for decades, and have given birth to children who are American citizens. They pay taxes. They weren't being contemptuous or rhetorical with their question. In fact, they ranged from sad to heartbroken. And so was I.

For the first time I felt defensive about our country as a whole. Democrats are not stupid - they are disorganized. Republicans are not stupid - the party organizers are geniuses, and their followers voted with their hearts. The only people I might apply the "S" word to are the people who didn't care enough to vote, who take paved roads and mandatory education and a working judicial system for granted.

The Little Guy cleaned up. "Stupid" is the only word he knows right now that's banned in our family, and it costs us 25 cents every time he hears it. His piggy bank stayed in the middle of the living room, and the international conversation was punctuated by the sound of coins dropping into a growing pile.
posted by Marjorie
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Saturday, November 06, 2004

Politics in Action

In the hangover following Tuesday's election, the Big Guy and I have committed to becoming politically active for the first time in our lives. He has put his first stake in the ground by writing a fabulous Op Ed piece that needs to get published somewhere. (Any powerful editors out there may email me RIGHT NOW.) And I myself have participated in a time-consuming written survey about local traffic and transportation issues.

If you get a knot in your stomach when you hear the phrase "political activist" (as I always did until now), please remember that it means more than marching in rallies and waving signs on highway overpasses. Volunteer in your kid's school. Write a check. Attend a town hall meeting. Write a letter to the editor, your Senator, your mayor. Recycle. Drive a smaller car. Think about the things you care about. Then think about your talents, skills, time and money. How can you connect the two? You do have a voice, and we still need to hear it.

Examples and Kudos:

Sister K for using her blog to inform and persuade.

Sister N, for bringing her 14-yr-old daughter to the voting booth with her.

My Ohio writer buddy who just published a post-election essay in Salon.

My mom friend who's volunteering in the neighborhood family co-op.

My lawyer neighbor for organizing opposition to a local transportation issue.

The many, many parents I know who actively raise and donate money for their kids' schools.

It's not enough to talk the talk - we need to walk the walk. What can you do today to make our world safer, healthier, happier?

posted by Marjorie
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Friday, November 05, 2004

The Scream Heard Round the World

Were you awakened by a siren blast last night? A mysterious, piercing shriek, the shrillness of which could not be measured? And was that shriek followed by a haunting melody, lilting in the darkness, the beauty of which could tame the wildest beast?

That would have been MomBrain, making her nightly potty trip at 2:00 AM. I normally don't flick on the light, since I prefer not to go blind before my time. But this was an exception since Legos were strewn all over the bathroom floor, and we all know about the Lego Problem. So the light blasted on, and as I passed by the bathroom mirror a familiar face stopped me. Of course I expected the mirror to reflect my own lovely visage, but staring back at me ... oh horrors ... was David Cassidy. Somehow I had slept on my hair sideways, and now it was tall and skinny and cowlicked and feathered in a way that can only be described as Partridge-ish. I shook my head and admired my hair's sassy movement. Tim the Hair Guy would approve. I fluffed it with my hands and watched it fall back into feathered 1970s perfection.

Well. I am not one to resist fate. The Buddhists have taught me that much. I picked up my hairbrush microphone and sang, using the tiled bathroom acoustics to their best effect. Yes, people, I sang, and I made it count.

I'm sleeping
And right in the middle of a good dream
Like all at once I wake up
From something that keeps knockin' at my brain.
Before I go insane I hold my pillow to my head
And spring up in my bed
Screaming out the words I dread:
"I think I love you!"

This morning when I awoke I ran to the bathroom to continue the performance, but my hair had reverted to its normal triangle shape. Alas. Was it all a dream? I do not know.

The Source of All Joy

I do not know how anyone can feel blue after playing in the leaves with the Little Guy on a spectacular fall day.

posted by Marjorie
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Wednesday, November 03, 2004


We are a house divided, with the Little Guy all smiles that the blueberry bush is still president, and the grownups unable to read the newspaper for fear of adding too much spice to the family vocabulary. I did read a few political blogs calling for unity ... support and prayers for Bush ... a spirit of moving forward. I disagree.

As a mother, it's my duty to harp about the No Child Left Behind Act, which is nothing less than a hijacking of the American educational system.

As a sister and daughter, it's my duty to pound the drum for universal health insurance.

As a self-employed writer, it's my duty to ask why I am paying 13% of my income to Social Security, which will never come back to me.

As a taxpayer, it's my duty to ask how Bush can send us to war, and yet directly undermine that effort by cutting taxes and stretching the military too thin.

As a friend, it's my duty to say that changing the Constitution of the United States of America is a serious, serious thing to do in the name of homophobia.

And now it is my duty to go to bed.
posted by Marjorie
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Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Why I Almost Voted Republican

Today is worse than a typical rainy Northwest day. It's a cold rainy Northwest day, with a hard rain and the kind of cold that seeps into your bones. So of course nothing could induce the Little Guy to chicken dance his way to the newspapers this morning. They laid, forlorn, in the grass, shivering in their wet plastic bags. But when I left to vote at lunchtime, my happy little newspapers were lying dry at my front door, with a flyer from the Republican candidate for governor. Wow, I thought - such a Democratic gesture. I mean, isn't it the Dems who think government should help people, while the G.O.P. believes we should help ourselves while they sip martinis with CEOs? I was impressed. And grateful. But not that grateful.

posted by Marjorie
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Once again, this country's future is being determined by the courts instead of the voters.

A federal appeals court ruled early today that the Republican Party
could place thousands of people inside polling places to challenge the
eligibility of voters, a blow to Democrats who had argued that those
challengers would intimidate minority voters.
Judge John M. Rogers, the writer for the majority, was appointed by President Bush. Our checks and balances aren't working any more, folks, and it's deeply disturbing.

posted by Marjorie
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Monday, November 01, 2004

Alas, the planets have aligned against MomBrain. Today, today I have a 1500-word article due. It is also the first day of NaNoWriMo, for which I am supposed to write another 1500 words or so. There is no food in the house. The Little Guy has a Halloween Hangover. My jeans are tight. And the toilet is clogged. Again. I do not like this, Sam I Am.

posted by Marjorie
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