Sunday, December 17, 2006

Little Tree

Growing up down south, the procuring of the Christmas tree was never done on the parking lot of a grocery store. The notion that one would BUY a "foreign" tree--a fir, a spruce, a Norway pine--that was just crazy talk in my family.

No, we went out to our acreage in the foothills of the Ozarks, tramped around amidst persimmon trees and stickery weeds that stuck to your pants, across dried up creek beds, under steel grey skies, and then we haggled and argued over which of the many homely cedars we would cut. The point was not to get a PRETTY tree, but to get the tree living in the shadow of another one: stunted, second-best, the bridesmaid, never the bride.

Of course, the real story was about good stewardship: these were trees that would languish anyway, and so it made sense to cull them. But we were always given the hopeful adaptation: the narrative of the passed-over tree, always knowing it could be the best Christmas tree ever, if only given a chance.

We were little old country kids, and we knew full well that these were the trees closest to our identity...we knew we were choosing ourselves, we were giving ourselves permission to shine and become glorious, if adorned and loved.

Now I live up north, and I just bought a fir tree off the lot of a grocery store, the first tree I've had in many, many years. I brought it home and decorated it, all by myself. It's a lovely tree. It's fragrant. It's shapely.

And I can't relate to it at all.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

tomorrow is winter.

Every year in Minnesota, usually a little earlier than this, there is a period of temperate weather, the end of which is marked by torrential rain. The earthworms are swept out of the ground and onto the sidewalks, where they wriggle around for a day. Then, that night, a hard freeze comes, and the earthworms are frozen in mid-wriggle on the sidewalk.

Today is the rain.
Tonight is the freeze.
Tomorrow is winter.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

the work of memory

I have an elderly friend who is in early stages of dementia.

She knows it.

Today I took some stollen (a German holiday bread that I make every year and that she really loves) and a thermos of coffee over to her, and sat for a while as she made her lists.

Every day she writes down random names and words, so that she won't forget them. She reads them as she writes them, very deliberately and sonorously. A litany of sorts.

She said my name after every other entry:

Patsy Cline
Wheel of Fortune


To be remembered.
To witness forgetting.

Wednesday, August 2, 2006

"Not Horrible is This Year's Great!"

Oh, sure, there are several of us that blog about our dreadful dating stories. But I'm tired of being the cup half empty type.

Sure, these dates are uniformly disappointing.

Sure, I'm tired of reading "my friends say I'm a great catch" as the first line in a profile.

But really, are these guys demons? No. Are they evil? No.

So I'm going on a second date tomorrow with someone who is Not Horrible.

As I remarked to my friend Dana earlier, my new mantra is:

"Not Horrible is This Year's Great!"

We're gonna put it on t-shirts.

Seeking investors! Who wants a cut?

Sunday, July 9, 2006

coffee at Barnes & Noble

I am killing time
reading Bukowski on tangerines
turning an engine over turning an engine over

this lady's laugh is like that
sputtering, rhythmic, weak, regular
if she doesn't want us to hear she should whisper less loudly.

How can such a falsely bright and animated voice be so boring?

This latte is deceiving me.
Cool white foam on top and searing black coffee from the fire in the
belly in the bottom of the cup.

Even her blouse is passive-aggressive. Red wannabe.
Cloying pink.

The book she leaves on the table:
Making the Grade: Everything Your First-Grader Needs to Know.

Poor kid.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Feline Marketing 101

I was just buying cat food.

There was cat food with real chicken, real turkey, real lamb, real beef, real tuna.

I've never seen my cat go after a cow or a lamb or a turkey.

Why don't they make cat food with things cats might actually stalk?


This doesn't make sense to me.

Thursday, July 6, 2006


The Scene: a local community center with a suspended, indoor track. On one side is a large room, and lots of little tow-headed boys in white are hopping around, preparing for their Tae Kwan Do class. My friend and I are doing an afternoon power walk.

She: You know, I should take a self-defense class...

rhythmic sound of our feet in step on the track, sound of our breathing...

I: Yes, I've thought about that, too. Why would you be interested?

She: Oh, you know, to protect myself. Why haven't you ever taken a class?

walk, walk, walk, walk...

I: Good question. I think it's because I've never found a class called Self-Defense Against Your Own Internal Demons.

laugh, laugh, laugh, walk, walk, walk, walk...sound fades...

Wednesday, March 1, 2006

This clock is busted.

I grew up learning that I would marry and have children. It's what my mother did, her mother before her, aunts, cousins, friends.

I did other things. I went to graduate school, I got a Ph.D., I started a career. I never made a statement like "I choose not to get married and have children." I just didn't do it. Some relationships ended as they should, some were rejected for bad reasons--but never for a principled reason like "I choose not to get married and have children."

In my early 40s, when my biological clock alarmed me, I had a period of wistfulness about it. And then I let it go. I would love other people's children. I would be the Auntie Mame for my brother's family. It would be glamorous and I would be unfettered.

But every once in a while, something like this happens:

I go to my trainer's home gym at 6:30 AM. It's dark, save for her studio in the basement. We whisper on the way down the stairs, shut the door and then turn our attention to strength and balance.

Then I hear muted little feet thud to the floor, one set after another, from three different rooms upstairs. I hear whimpering dogs, the dad's resonant voice through the floor joists.

When I come up from the basement, Mattie, 3, is sitting at the top stair, wrapped in a pink blankie, hair swirled, sleep in her eyes, a baby-husky morning voice saying "yes" to my "are you waking up now, Mattie?"


And I am knocked over by a wave of crushing grief between patting her arm, righting myself, and opening the door out into my world and new daylight.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Bindery

I went to a book bindery in downtown Minneapolis today.

It's in the warehouse district and has been around for decades. It's run by generations of a family, and you either know where it is or you don't. No need to advertise, because they are true artisans and the quality of their work is recounted by word of mouth. It's in an ancient building, through winding corridors and up worn stairs.

Once inside--announced by a tinkling bell on the door--I stand and wait for someone to appear. Smells of ink and paper and dust and machine oil and leather... years of tattered cartoons and notes and phone numbers (still with the old exchanges: FR 4-3444) tacked to the walls...

Finally, an older, large woman wearing a flowered smock comes (shuffles, waddles, effortful) around a stack of books and greets me. I announce my business and she knows who to shout for. Her grandson comes up (long ponytail, not more than 20) and walks me through my options: calfskin, goatskin, vellum, full leather, 1/2 leather, 1/4 I want the crumbling pages restored, too? He's attentive and loving as he runs his fingers gently over the book I've placed before him. He knows it's my treasure, without me saying so, and he approaches it reverently.

He's much younger than this book.

He says he will have to let his dad examine it and confirm his estimate, but he feels pretty confident about what he tells me.

He's afraid the numbers he quotes me will cause me to balk, and I tell him that I am not just paying for the book restoration--I am also paying for the lift in spirit I get from having a 20-year old boy stand before me, knowing, understanding, in a dusty sanctuary of words and the material that binds them.

I leave the book with him and return downstairs and to the street. I drive away, through downtown, through the suburbs, past a Wal-Mart.

I don't think they carry what I just bought.