Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Some things I did before 9AM today

Dreamt that someone unearthed photographs of me from 20 years ago and published them in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Dreamt about a woman who learned that her mother was being beaten regularly.

Tried in vain to get back to sleep.

Tried in vain to meditate.

Noticed that there was no heat in the apartment.

Wondered if I could spoon my boyfriend without disturbing his sleep.

Noticed that my sinuses were stuffed up.

Brushed my teeth.

Chopped and juiced 5 vegetables with some seaweed.

Washed most of the dishes.

Kissed my boyfriend goodbye on his way out the door.

Checked my voicemail.

Played the answering machine.

Accused the boy cat of wanting to pee on the rug.

Quarrantined the boy cat in the bathroom.

Consumed a bowl of cereal.

Marveled at the morning sky, some tall sycamores, and the smoke coming out of three chimneys on the hill out my window.

Watered the cats.

Put on Side One of Carole King's Tapestry.

Put an outfit together from two closets and a pile on the bedroom floor.

Played “laser light” with the girl cat.

Put some postcard stamps in my bag.

Hunted for my eyeglasses.

Hunted for my scarf.

Brushed my teeth again.

Caught the elevator on its way down from the eighth floor.

Watched my bus drive past the building as I walked through the lobby.

Was heartened by the luminosity of the sky, and the perceptible motion of the passing clouds, as I stood at the busstop.

Got a seat on the 61C.

Noted the sight of my favorite cobblestone sidestreet.

Enjoyed the silhouettes of the trees against the pale sky.

Read a chapter on sugar addiction.

Picked up the new issue of the weekly paper.

Enjoyed the quality of the light again.

Wondered why Virginia had such flat skies.

Realized I'd always thought the sky was boring.

Opened the _________ office for business.

Said hello to the plant.

Said hello to the secretary down the hall.

Booted up the computer.

Checked two email accounts for work.

Made a cup of tea with the Hot spigot on the water cooler.

Read about a city council scandal.

Read about Pittsburgh’s international residents.

Read an email from my mother-in-law.

Made some calls for work.

Learned that my boss’ office is reportedly haunted.

Answered some questions and asked some questions by email.

Mailed some invitations.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


Thursday we ran into my favorite Pittsburgh street musician on the 61A. Thomas asked me later did I see her violin case or did I actually recognize her, because he doesn’t think he would have, out of context. I realized that I had recognized her largely because of the recognition I saw on HER face when she saw ME, because otherwise her long hair was tucked into her coat, and I’d never seen her in winter clothes before.

She’s usually wearing, when I see her playing on Murray Avenue, an ankle-length patchwork skirt and a cotton peasant blouse; her very long hair tied into a braid or sometimes pulled off her face in part, the rest loose. The way she looks, and in fact everything about this woman, is a flashback for me, to the post-hippies I observed as a child in the 70s and their lives as I imagined them. Her kindness, her openness to striking up conversation on the street, her dedication to busking, her youthful energy, even her face itself, with its lack of makeup and its wide-eyed curiosity, yes, even its willingness to RECOGNIZE and to meet that recognition with vitality and enthusiasm.

In the 70s, our young family was still moving around the country, as we looked for a place that was amenable to my father setting up a practice, and one that would please my mother and have good public schools; the usual. I often describe these years as a struggle between my father’s fantasy of being a West Coast-Free Spirit and my mother’s strong desire that her children should know their (East Coast) grandparents, and I’m making it up, but I don’t think I’m way off, either.

The homes that were my earliest memories were set in the liberal college towns of central Massachusetts and then central Orgeon--Chickopee and Corvallis. There, hippies existed everywhere in the fringes of my world--the wood-shelved health food stores, the local mountains we hiked, the farmer’s markets, the restaurants we went to for soup or whole-wheat pizza, the dilapidated bookshops that always had a dog or a cat haunting the back of the store, even the church choir with its acoustic-guitar interpretations of the hymns.

The busker had just been to the Carnegie Art Museum, she said. She’d spent the day looking at the Impressionists and the Old Masters, on a free pass because she’d been invited to play an event. She told me my coat and scarf reminded her of a certain Bonnard with greens and lavenders, and a brown dog. I complemented her on her scarf, whose pattern looked like a series of God’s Eyes (another memory from the 70s, grade-school art classes and camp activities) and the three of us recalled the story of Isadora Duncan’s death. The busker said Yes, she often thinks about the scarf snapping the dancer’s neck, whenever she catches her hair in a car door or against some other snag. I asked her had her hair ever caught fire, and she said no, but a shirt did, once. She told us of a long-ago boyfriend, and how she found it a very romantic and exciting idea to cook dinner for him and his friend. She was at the gas stove in his apartment, cooking Mexican in a blousy Mexican shirt when the shirt caught fire, the flames travelling quickly up near her face. She was able to put out the fire, but another flame was extinguished when her boyfriend came in and asked what was taking dinner so long. “That was it for me.” She walked out right then and there.

What was a Hippie in my imagination as a child? They wore loose clothes, and flowing hair, they didn’t spend their time in malls or their money on beauty and hygeine products. They made whatever they could, they learned crafts and skills to make items for practical home use (like soap or saurkraut) or to make a living (like jewelry or musical instruments), they grew their own vegetables, they often built their own houses, even our family raised pigs for a time, and ate them for the rest of that Massachusetts winter. No, Hippies in my observation were not always vegetarian but were always anti-consumer. Nor in my mind were they fascists or evangelists about their beliefs, they just lived like this. They were easy going, they smiled easily, they liked whole foods, they liked music, which was mostly played by themselves or their wives or their friends, with whom they would gather and cook and sing. I had heard my parents’ mentions of Vietnam protests, but I didn’t pay attention to the political anger that the Hippie might have, or anything else beneath those smiles. For that matter, my parents looked blissful and easy in their snapshots from Vietnam protests.

I asked my busker did she paint, and she said Yes, that she had recently taken it up again. She’d put up fliers hocking her skills as a portrait artist, hoping it would make some money and get her back into the habit. She’d gotten some requests from families, she said, and what she learned was that children were very difficult to paint. You should definitely paint them first, she told us. Still, she prefers painting from life to painting from a photograph. We asked her was her street music out for the season, and she said Yes, she won’t play again until it’s mild. Even if she was up to it, the violin was not, she told us. “It can’t take extreme heat or cold.” The violin she was carrying was a borrowed one, because hers had cracked with the sudden drop in temperature. She was planning on bartering with a guy who runs a shop in the Strip District to get it repaired.

I think I imagine that Easy-Going Hippies is what my parents were whenever they weren’t acting shackled by their Catholic dogma, or regressing to the prejudices and fears of their own parents. But their hippie selves slowly seemed to become relegated to the past so that I still associate THOSE parents with those places--Massachusetts and Oregon. For our final move as a family was to Virginia, to a suburban housing development far from any college campus or liberal urban environs, to a neighborhood of folks who seemed pretty content to turn into their parents, with more money. The 70s became the 80s and malls were the thing, money was the thing, sports cars and power ties were the thing. The anti-Reagan counter-culture I grew up with was vocal, visible, and real, even in my small suburban town, but it always seemed so much more angry and desperate than those serene hippies of my youth. This didn’t keep me from being involved with it, but it did seem to relegate those hippies, once again, to a specific place and time.

At Forbes and Murray, we parted ways. Thomas and I excused ourselves down the aisle and flashed our bus passes at the driver as we descended to the sidewalk; and the busker kept riding East.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Last night I dreamt the phrase, "Angry Hezbollah Ringtones."

Friday, January 19, 2007


What is “busy”? Is it anything more than trying to avoid feelings, or people, or the quiet inside?

What isn’t busy? When was the last time you had a job where you weren’t “too busy”? Busy used to be a negative adjective. Then it became “multi-tasking,” a positive attribute, a supposed skill.

Thomas says that people with money no longer have time. That somehow, money never buys time, and the illusion that it does eats time when you’re not looking. When you’re too busy to pay attention, there is no longer time. Time expands with the attention you pay to life, life is in the attention-given moments. I’m not saying it right, it’s like a zen paradox that can’t be written, only meditated upon.

My mother has just called me at the office, and I have gotten her off the phone because I’m at work, and I’m “busy.” She thinks that because I now have my own office, and am the only one who picks up the phone, that I should be able to talk to her here, as if I am now a Lady of Leisure. My Mother Guilt Paradox: I can never seem to get enough time away from my mother, or with her.

Outside there is a furious snow shower (huge flakes) and the sun is shining. I’m feeling a little sheepish because I know the snow gets a good laugh when it hears me say “I’m busy.”

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Wednesday, January 17, 2007


Where does writing come from, and where does it go when I am too busy to write it down? Is it an expression of an entity that already exists, or is it an invention of something that wouldn't otherwise exist if I was too busy the rest of my life to set pen to paper?

Thursday, January 11, 2007


In the dream we were in Woodstock, Virginia, at the bottom of a mountain. An inhabited mountain, there were paved streets and shallow wooden houses, two stories; homes leaning with the curve of the mountain, which is to say all different directions, none of them plumb with any other. There were people around, families, but not well-behaved ones. Not mother walking down the sidewalk with two little ones cooing instructions, not father pitching a baseball to the son in a yard. No, just big-boned families milling around the streets, taking up space. Fathers with bushy, unkempt beards and no good ideas. Dark hair, dark eyes, an unlikely ethnicity for the region: maybe Portuguese or French Canadian. Large litters of children. Some mothers, but more fathers. Perhaps the mothers were inside houses indulging in naps.

“The region”: Woodstock is in the Shennandoah Valley, in between the Blue Ridge mountains and the Appalachians. It really wasn’t a mountain, but a steep hill on one side, and a steep hill on the other. We were at the bottom of a hollow, a crowded hollow.

Suddenly the landscape was a map. Suddenly the other half of we was no longer my beau but my father. I often dream of maps. We grew up with all kinds of maps: National Geographic books with maps of the continental U.S. or of the world, Triple-A maps for family visits or vacations, maps my father would bring out to illustrate a story, brochure maps that were free at rest stops on interstates, treasure maps in children’s books, and three-dimensional topographical maps that hung on the wall. Above the old schooldesk where the gerbil cage sat, back when we had gerbils. A topographical map of a section of Virginia. Maybe that map was indeed of Woodstock and the Blue Ridge.

My father was showing me that right behind us, where I wasn’t looking (now we were above everything, looking down at the map) was a lake. I was trying to wrap my mind around what the scale of this map was, since I realized that I had been existing in a very limited space for quite some time. My father wasn’t answering my (silent) questions directly, but the things he was saying started filling in some gaps. The map was two-dimensional. The lake was huge, I thought I heard my father say it was thirty miles across. I realized that I had no idea what were the measurements of the Great Lakes. My father was interested in the mountains. He was translating the map’s language for me, showing me that there were mountains of a much higher altitude surrounding the lake, he could tell by the closeness of the lines.

The dream ended with the word SHELDRAKE. I repeated the word over and over all morning, the whole bus ride to work, whispering it inside my cranium. I was so proud of myself. I was sure that it had to do with my parents’ life in Woodstock, the year my brother was born. It’s very hard to remember language from dreams. If you’ve ever tried it, you know. It’s next to impossible to lure something that concrete from one realm to the other. From dream life through waking. Usually it washes down the drain right then.

By the time I thought of writing it down, it was mid-day at work. And my mind blanked. I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe I’d been so proud of myself, and then gambled with my lucky word by not recording it. It was the triumph of the trickster dream gods: “You can recall it, but not long enough to write it down!....” The closest I could get to it was the word SHALIMAR, and I knew that wasn’t it. I sat in my office, alone and dejected. The plant, the slant of the light outside, the possibility of seeing the wild turkeys again, they meant nothing to me.

Later it came back to me when I wasn’t looking for it. SHELDRAKE. I haven’t asked my parents yet what it means to them, but I did hear that there’s a “Loch Sheldrake” in Upstate New York.

Thursday, January 04, 2007


Those damn mail carts again. It was a very Pittsburgh setting: A steep hill, I was crossing in the middle at a crosswalk about which I am always dubious. Trust repressed rage-aholics behind the wheel of a car talking on a cell phone without a stop light? No thanks. But there was no one in sight. I ventured. When out the blue, two empty mail carts came careening down the hill, heading right for me. We all crashed together on the sidewalk and tumbled into the grass.

Bea at the luncheonette handed me a boysenberry ice in a pleated paper cup, moments later.

This morning it was honking black birds crossing the sky in the bright dark blue and the remnants of a full moon shining like an usher's flashlight they weren't heeding. I got up before getting up just to push the curtain aside and see. The moon, I noticed, was many feet higher above Squirrel Hill than it had been at the same time the previous morning.