Saturday, December 31, 2011

wake up and fight

By now, you've seen Woody Guthrie's "New Years Rulin's." The list lover in me is as tickled as the fan. Big surprise: Not much has changed in seventy years. We still want to "read lots good books." We still want to "eat good." We still don't learn people very well.

So maybe we are not running out to the banks to deposit our extra money or shining our shoes. But we're still fighting fascism (or should be, especially right here at home), and we're still doing what it takes to crank up that ol' hoping machine every day.

On our secret lists—yours and mine—we're reminding ourselves to floss more this year, to love people, to make the bed every morning. And while we may tailor our out-loud resolutions to individual goals ("write a song a day"), the two-thirds of us who are overweight are hoping to eat better—or, in my case, less. I have a few more things I want to accomplish.

To Do in 2012

1. Read more books. Novels, short stories, poetry.
1. Blueprints for Building Better Girls, by Elissa Schappell
2. God Bless America, by Steve Almond
3. Black Elvis, by Geoffrey Becker
4. The Greatest Show, by Michael Downs.

2. Write more poetry.

My poetry mojo has been stuffed in a too-small pair of underpants, further constringed by a girdle, squeezed into black control-top hose, and packed into tight leather pants that nobody wears anymore. It's itchy and lonely and hot and needs to go commando.

It's been a long time since I wrote a poem without having to rely on single, unrelated words from Facebook friends. But as soon as I made the resolution, I wrote a poem in my head. It's about buttons. It's going to be good; I can feel it. I just need to squeeze it out.

3. Take more photographs.

I'm not talking about pointing at and shooting so many sunrises and sunsets, so much of the minutiae of my day, the birds, the rockstar kids I know, people, food, buildings.

I'm talking about sunrises and sunsets! The minutiae of my day! Oh, the birds! Those rockstar kids I know! People! Food! Buildings!

More, but better! I'm hoping for a series of self-portraits in the new year. Maybe superheroes. Maybe art recreations. Something weekly.

4. Concentrate on the concentrations of goodness wherever it's found.

I find mine in Tuesday nights with friends, in a fancy Maudite glass, in the basement, on the dog bed. In fact, wherever there are good people and good food and good music, I'm usually pretty happy. There's some of that for all of us every day. Yes?

5. Play guitar every day.

Even though I suck. Maybe I'll suck less.

6. Lose weight. Move More.

There's nothing worse than being old except being old and fat. I hurt myself in a pilates class at work, and now even my fat pants don't fit. I've given myself permission to satisfy sadness and stress and pain with beer and pizza, even though it only feeds a pathetic fire. So after I ring in the new year with a roasted pig, I'll stop being one. I'll be on Medifast for a month—at least until I learn how to control myself.


7. Wake up and fight.

For far too many mornings since June, I have found myself in the company of those who wake up and surrender. Tonight, I burn the white flags.

My wish for you in 2012 is my wish for me and everyone else. Take more pictures—with your camera, your words, your mind. Love. Pleasure yourself while you pleasure others (doesn't even require two hands). Listen to good music and drink good beverages and eat good food and keep good company.

Remember to put the oxygen mask on yourself first. It's how you run the hoping machine.

What are your plans for 2012? Will you learn a new language? A new instrument? Will you take a leap of faith? Will you trust more, worry less?

Saturday, December 24, 2011

merry giftsmas and happy chanustuff

It’s 7:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve. The sky is still dark, and my dogs are snoring at my feet. My husband and daughter are away until afternoon. The last sip of the coffee I made at 5:45 is still hot in my lidded Thermos mug. The tree is twinkling, and the crows are barking hello to me as they fly over the house.

The room where I write is full of stuff—books, wrapped presents, framed photographs, guitars, a collection of cake plates, crow-themed items. The eight leather chairs are new.

Every year, without fail, I amass new stuff (alas, without purging much of the old). Because we’re not in hock, with credit card debt and a mortgage that’s higher than our home’s value, we can usually take care of the little emergencies—and even some luxuries, like a concierge doctor or a guitar.

For the last few years, I had a tough time getting jingly wit’ Christmas. Sure, I’m always up for eggnog and cookies, a couple of favorite holiday songs, festive lights (the gaudier the better). But the frantic buying of stuff has bugged me.

I guess that’s ironic, given that I am a material girl.

The other day, a friend was torn about lamenting. Her favorite ornament—a one-of-a-kind, personalized item given to her by her sister—had broken, and she wondered how to come to terms with the loss when she generally takes a Buddhist approach to attachments.

Well, cross that religion off my list! I love things! I mean, I love things.

Lording over the living room is a taxidermy crow. On the sofa is a crow hand puppet so soft and fluffy that I put my hand inside it regularly. On Halloween, I gave it a clown nose, and it cheers me. On the bookshelf, I have a glass vase filled with hundreds of paper cranes. Those cake plates? I have seven of them.

Some of the things I have can be replaced, but so much of what I love most is a reminder of whom I love most: my thoughtful husband and daughter, who brought me a frozen crow in the dead of winter; my sister, who always gives the best gifts and helps to talk me down from the ledge; Grace, a young artist, who is already a star in my book but who is destined for others’ books; friends who helped me celebrate the release of my own book.

The woman who’d lost her ornament quoted someone named Peter Walsh. “The memento is not the memory,” she reminded me. True! But for me—menopausal, forgetful, busy, over-stimulated—that memento is the trigger for that memory. It reminds me to think of those people and their goodness every day, not just when they pop randomly into my head.

For the past few years, I’ve been a Christmas curmudgeon. This year, though, I’ve made some new material attachments. And to temper all this getting—paintings, earrings, magnets that say “Fuck” and “Shit”—I gave. I supported half a dozen Kickstarters. I donated to public radio and poetry and Wikipedia! Now they are my things, too.

I still hate that stuff-buying is a holiday. I want giving and receiving to be more special than that. People should display their affection with material items when they come across something that is you, something that would always remind you of their love, like the way they share a link on your Facebook wall. It shouldn’t be dictated by the calendar. Or maybe it should be on your own birthday, rather than someone else's.

How do you fight that, especially when you have children, even though that's when it seems most important to try?

The Christmas card I made for the year (yes, it’s a Christmas card; Rudolph is on the front) says, “May your joys outnumber your toys.” I do mean it. And if your toys bring you joy, too—well, you do the math.

Steven Wright said, “You can’t have everything; where would you put it?” He’s right, of course. But I still have some room.

* * * *

I miss you, Mark Harp. This will forever be your day.

RIP, Cleopatra.

Monday, December 5, 2011


My hands smell like deer. It's a gamey smell—wilder than horse but tamer than buffalo.

I was thinking about deer today after having pulled out last year's Christmas card, a Hipstamatic shot of a plastic deer bathed in the delicious rainbow of sunflare. I got the idea to make a new card for this year and started working on it after lunch.

At five, after a full day at work, I bolted out of my office, ready for my beer and my family (in that order), and as I was driving the winding, rural roads, in my usual hurry, the card flashed in my mind. I slowed down and adjusted my seat back a little. These roads are littered with road kill. And deer are everywhere.

A few miles down Greenspring Avenue, I thought I saw one cross the dark roadway; indeed, a bunch of cars slowed down and sped back up, as if waiting for it to pass. The streets were surprisingly empty for a rush-hour Monday night. I got to the intersection of the beltway and Greenspring in just fifteen minutes, but the good time I'd made was about to disappear.

A baby deer lay squirming in the road.

I stopped my car, backed up, and turned on my hazards. I was on automatic pilot—clearly not thinking. The deer had been hit, but no one was here on my side of the street, normally a busy intersection. The animal was between the two lanes, and I was blocking one of them. I saw the mother on the hill, looking down and running away at the same time.

You can't unsee an animal in pain. And that instinct just kicked in, you know? How could I let this gentle creature die alone? I massaged his fur, and when I was sure he wasn't going to bite me, I hugged him to feel his weight.

Cars were coming, so I stood up and motioned for help. Lifting is an issue, so I turned and faced the growing number of headlights, like a deer in them myself, and begged: Will someone please help me?

They just wanted to go home. I know. I'm one of them, usually. I'd have been leaning on my horn, screaming at me to get out of the fucking street on any other day.

So I cradled the animal's head, which was too far in the other lane, and directed traffic around us.

I asked again if someone could please help me move the deer to the side of the road, and a Jeep pulled up behind my car. A man got out and walked toward me. "I'm a veterinarian," he said. "Is he dead?"

He wasn't, but I felt like the deer had relaxed in my hands, was less anxious. Dying. The man said, "What are the chances that a veterinarian would be behind you?" He picked up the baby animal and carried him to the side of the road.

"Thank you," I said. I had nothing more profound.

"I'm going to put him down," he said, and went back to the Jeep for some medicine. Last time I saw that medicine was December 13, when we said goodbye to Cleopatra.

"I love you," I told the man, and I left. I did love him. I do.

I cried the whole way home, headlights and streetlights a wet blur, gamey smell of deer on my fingers.

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If you know this veterinarian (maybe he told you this story), please email me at