Friday, January 26, 2007

Sunday Scribbling--Chronicles of Nora (a fiction)

“That’s stupid.” Tomas said. My tall, handsome primo-hermano was about to turn twelve, a prime age for doubt, especially in the facts laid out in fairy tales. “'Happily ever after?' Who lives like that? Mami and Papi can barely keep from fighting over breakfast!”

“That’s because they are passionate, intense people, who live and love hard,” piped up his sister, Marisol. She sounded just like Tia Patricia when she said that; like she was repeating an old story, down to the tone of voice.

I stayed silent, I did that a lot in those days. But I remember what I was thinking, “I believe in happily ever after.” I did because I saw it. My Papi was devoted to my mother, Nora. Everyone knew it, and everyone said it to me all of the time. “You’re so lucky Maritza. Tia Nora is like…a saint, or something. She never even gets mad! And your parents are so cute! Ay, so in love!”

And they were…almost always together at these weekend parties, when usually the couples broke off into their units, wives in the kitchen stirring an endless pot of mole, or giving the babies bits of arroz to whet their appetite. Doctors be damned! Husbands in the living room drinking cerveza and paying cards. Only my parents fought this separation, so standard it almost seemed like nature. They sat apart in the corner of the living room, watching the men play, always in deep conversation. Every now and then Mami would run into the kitchen for something, and Papi would just watch the space where she was until she returned to fill it. But lately Papi would bring me to the weekend parties alone, at Mami’s urging, because she was so sick. El cancer. I wasn’t supposed to know that, but of course, I did.

We kids usually sat in the bedroom, balancing on the queen sized bed with the pink flouncy bedspread. There was always one adult designated to tell us stories, play games with us, and keep us out of trouble. It alternated between our youngest tia, Sonia, and our abuela.

Abuela was a wonderful storyteller, dreaming up fairy tales that were way more interesting than the stuff we read in class. It was one of those that we’d just finished hearing.

“And what’s a chronicle, anyway? I mean…nothing we do is all that important, so chronicles must happen to other people, right, abuela?” Tomas was looking to be contradicted, I could tell. No one wants to think what they do is not important, not even my know-it-all cousin.

“I think it’s like…like the history of the important people,” Bak said. I’d almost forgotten…he was there too. Not that I wouldn’t have known that, known it with every cell back then. Bak was my Sunday crush—the one that made those endless parties a little exciting. He wouldn’t have fit in with my friends or school at all, but that only made it better—like I could put on this whole other person, just for him.

Bak was short for something…but I don’t think I ever knew what. No one ever called him anything but that. There was always all sorts of mystery around him—he was adopted by one of my uncle’s best friends, after something happened that no one ever mentioned in front of us kids. Bak was exactly the kind of person who would have a chronicle, and I told him so, surprising myself. He blushed hard, rose flush on such tan skin, and pulled himself into himself.

Abuela grinned and said, “It’s something like that—the important history of people are their chronicles…and everyone has them. You live forward, but meaning streams backwards behind you. That’s why you have to keep looking behind you to understand yourself.”

Not me. I could just look straight ahead. My mother was going to die. Everyone knew it, even though no one said it. And then everything that happened after that would be what made my life. It made me feel heavy, like after I had the flu for a week.

“I mean,” Abuela continued, “I’ll bet you never even heard one of my favorite stories!” So of course we all clamored to hear it. She pretended to be considering against it, then hunched forward, and started to tell it.

“So here it is…the Chronicle of Nora. When we first got to this country, Nora was just eleven years old.” I sat up straighter—a story about Mami! I nuzzled closer to Abuela. My Mami meant I could sit in a position of honor, because it was my story too.

“Ay, we used to call her Nora la Electradora…Nora the Electrifying One…because she was such a fireball of energy and fury and love and just…everything you’d want from a daughter. But oh, she had a TEMPER!”

“Mami?” I asked in disbelief at the same time that everyone else said, “Tia Nora?”

“Yes! Yes! Nora, your Nora, she was not always the angel you see now.” She laughed again, an inward laugh, as though she was laughing from the time the story happened and the chuckle just reached us now.

“We all loved fast food back then…it was so American, and anyway, it was all we could afford. But none of us could speak Ingles, so we would wait until our neighbor’s son, Jose, started work. Then he could take our order in Spanish. Well, one day, I guess Jose was sick or something…and he never showed up. And we sat there, in the back of the Burger King, and we were STARVING. But no one dared to do a whole order in English. We just knew very few words back then. Until finally Nora had enough and she strode right up to the whitest, blondest kid there and said, 'I want an American Love!' See, the ad back then was 'Americans Love the Whopper' and I guess she thought that was the whole name of her favorite sandwich.

Oh, we all laughed and laughed--looking that girl's confused expression, and Nora all proud like she'd figured out two plus two! But Nora…she didn’t even blink. She just grinned and somehow, she got her burger and all of us watched her eat for a minute before we couldn’t take it anymore and went to muddle through our OWN orders. Now…” she said when our laughter died down. “You could look at that story two ways. For sure, Nora looked foolish and I’m sure deep down she was embarrassed. But I don’t remember it that way. She was like un military…a soldier! She fought for what she wanted. And she still does…just more quiet.” Abuela squeezed my hand. I held my head down, watched the unexpected tears dropping on her hand. “Nora can fight, mi’jita. And she won’t lose!”

But she did. El cancer took her just a few months later, and Abuela passed about two years later, taking all of those stories with her. But she gave me this story of Mami, a different, fire-living Mami, and many others as well. Those stories burn inside of me, have burned themselves into my DNA, and I only look for the words to make them breathe again. To make them inspire me, again.

Despite everything, I still believe in happily ever after. My Mami had it her whole life long, and Papi...well, he never married again, adoring Mami until his end. And me? Well, maybe for me it will be happily after everything.

I am on my way home now, from far away New England, to celebrate our annual “Dia de los muertos”…our remembrance of Mami, Papi, of Abuela, of everyone in our family who has passed, but who live on in us.

This year there will be a new picture on the memory table. Bak is gone this year. Killed in Iraq. He took Abuela’s words to heart on that day—decided to tell his story forward with bravery. Now it was up to us to look backwards and make meaning on his behalf.

And when I got to the Tia Sonia’s house (no more apartments for us—we really were Americans now), the family drifted out to greet me. And they all looked like pieces of string, disparate, waiting to weave themselves around the bones of our loved ones' memories, and make life again.
To read more Chronicles of life and love, go here.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Mothers and Daughters

I’m one of those people who has to nose around any bookshelves wherever she is. It’s my window into the spirit of the person, the idiosyncrasies that may or may not be displayed in the light of the day. Sometimes, my searches disappoint me. Nothing but glossy coffee table books which are almost more about decoration, about setting the stage, than they are about a person’s inner soul. Or bestsellers, scores of books that only tell me that this person is very interesting in keeping up with the rest of the world.

But sometimes I discover something that nestles into my mind, to be called upon and examined at a later date, unexpectedly.

I used to work for a literary agent during my publishing years in New York—a wise and wonderful woman who took me under her wing, introducing me to all sorts of new ideas. Many of her projects were about spirituality, about the deep soul of creativity, and so it happened that we talked about these ideas a lot. These discussions helped me refine how I think about a lot of these deep subjects, and exposed a lot of rigidity in my thinking. I’m still digesting them, years later.

One of the books on her shelf was by a Berkeley psychologist named Kim Chernin—called The woman who gave birth to her mother. The title intrigued me, and curious, I picked it up.

“Oh, that book is one of the most profound that I’ve ever read.” Said the agent when she saw me looking at it. “I would lend it to you, but I want to re-read it again.”

I don’t remember if I asked her why the book was so profound. Perhaps I did, and she couldn’t quite describe it to me. Or perhaps I wasn’t ready to think about it. But I remembered it recently, and just finished reading it today. The experience was something I cannot quite describe, although I'm going to try and find the words now. It's still evolving, my mother-story.

You may have noticed, if you are a bit of a regular reader (and if you are, THANK YOU) that I write a great deal about mothers and daughters. I always assumed that was because I was processing the experience of becoming a mother myself—of moving from that place from where I’d always processed the world—my role of youngest daughter—to a new place, a new role of mother. I wasn’t sure if I could handle it, the pressures of trying to be a role model for my daughter when I felt like such a failure in my own life. Trying to become an adult in time, so that Madam would experience me as a seamless gap—a strong woman who had always been a strong woman, at least in her experience.

My mother was that way for me. For the first three years of my life, I had her all to myself—an enviable circumstance, rare for a youngest child. And yet, I am sure that I sensed that something essential in her was far away from me, dealing with her own guilt and pain at having left her other three children in another country. Dealing with her confusion at needing to be fully present for this child in this new life, even as she longed to go back to all that she knew.

And yet, she was always capable, able to create a sense of security for me and my father, a home regardless of our poor, tentative circumstances.

Or so I always remember. That's one of my mother-stories.

Since becoming a mother myself, my relationship with my own mother has frayed. I was always quick to defend her from any accusations from Punkish Middle Sister, quick to take the blame on myself whenever I disagreed with her, sure that she, as the mother, was right, and I, as the daughter, was wrong.

But now different aspects of my childhood are rising up in me, as though the Polaroid is finally becoming clear after years of murk. I remember my mother being resentful of me, of my new place as my father’s favorite. My father’s love was extravagant, almost nonsensical. It wasn’t tied to any achievement on my own part, on any specialness. I existed, and for some reason, for my father, that was enough. And he had a difficult, angry, broody relationship with my other siblings, with my mother herself, so I ended up on the outside of them, with him. I always felt guilty about that, as though him choosing me tainted me. As though I was put on the losing side, the wrong side. And then I would squelch these ideas because I was devoted to my father (still am) and these thoughts felt so disloyal. But I still longed for my mother’s approval—longed for her to reach out to me in the same way. But she never quite did. I know she did what she thought was right—thought that she needed to balance my father’s adoration for me (spoiling me, she thought) with tough love, remind me that I’m not special. And she wasn’t entirely wrong. My father’s love for me took the shape of wanting to keep me in a glass castle, like a china doll. I wasn’t supposed to do ANYTHING. He would gladly do my chores for me, whatever. And I still have a problem with feeling like it’s OK to work, to exert myself even when its difficult. I still believe, on some deep, childish level, that if I wait long enough, someone will come along and take the burden away from me.

That didn’t make it any easier for me to hear that I wasn’t special…from my own mother.

And of course, I was born so late—born after everything important had occurred in my family. They all had a history, and a life, before me, and I never quite fit in after all. I was from a different generation, literally, I was born in a different place. And I was a different kind of child, dreamy, obsessive, interested in spirituality and mysticism and creativity from a very young age, and this must have been bemusing and confusing to my hard-nosed, practical mother.

This all lead to the most pervasive image I have had of myself for most of my life, the image of myself standing outside, staring at people from the other side of the glass. They were all together, in community, and I was alone. And it persists, even now. I feel a distance between Madam and my family already--she's so much younger than her cousins and she lives so far away. I am afraid that my family won't know her, won't love her, and that she'll sense that.

“None of your brothers and sisters like you. They think you are a brat.” I spent most of my pre-adolescence and adolescence hearing that.

The thing is, I always thought they were RIGHT for treating me this way—because I was young, not interesting like them, not vivacious like them. Right because it was somehow my fault that I didn’t share their history, that all of important moments and monuments are merely stories for me. And I tried to listen, observe, in the hopes that I’d solve the puzzle that would make me feel like one of them. And that would make me feel like my mother really liked me.

See, I still don’t think she does. Oh, I know that she loves me in her way. But I don’t feel that she likes me, the person that I was and the person that I have become.

On this past Christmas visit, I clashed a lot with her, just commonplace stuff, because we have very different ideas about mothering, and because she loves Madam with an almost jealous love, almost seeming to wish that she could eliminate the middle woman and have her all to herself. I can understand that.

But during a quiet moment (I don’t even remember what we were discussing) she mentioned that she’d had me because they were desperate to stay in the country and couldn’t think of another way to do it. Basically, if not for that, I would not have been.

I’m not sure why that admission has affected me so strongly. I always suspected that my birth was basically a boon that allowed my parents to stay here (and bring my siblings as well). But…I guess I always thought that was a side effect, or something. Not the purpose of it all.

I think I always knew it, though, on some level. My place in the family always felt precarious, and my family’s love felt conditional. I’ve spent my life alternately trying to prove to them that I’m worthy and feeling that I never could. And I've projected that onto my relationship with the Universe--forever the youngest daughter who was born too late, forever wanting validation that hey, I exist and it's a *good* thing. It's time for me to tell the story, so I can release it. I am tired of living out this script. And no, I am not obsessively recounting the past. This whole dynamic is as potent now as it was when I was four.

But…that’s not the mother-story I want to focus on right now. No, I want to be able to see my mother as a three dimensional person, which is so hard because I fluctuate between idealizing her and wanting to be completely different from her, being angry with her. I want to be able to avail myself of her gifts—her confidence, her competence, her strength. I identify too strongly with my father—my father who is kind, and loving, but also moody, depressive and fearful. I want to feel my mother’s power, the full power of her womanhood, for myself.

And maybe that’s why I keep writing about mothers and daughters—because I need to teach myself how to be a mother, yes, but also because I want to understand my own mother. I want to finally feel free to claim her gifts for my own—to claim my own femininity, with shades of hers, yes, but also in my unique hue.

It’s not just about giving birth to my own mother. It’s about giving birth to myself as a woman.

Continue reading...

Monday, January 22, 2007

The Ant Queen and Old Man (a fairy tale)

Arthur Rackham. Picture from here.
(Ed Note: My Muse is speaking to me in the language of fairy tales lately. I'm just trying to go with it.)

Come, sit here by me, and I will tell you a tale about a land just adjacent to your own, where there loomed a stern, imposing mountain far above a tiny village by a lake. The mountain could be viewed from every window in the hamlet, from every angle of the town. The people in the village liked to gather and watch the peak of the mountains fray the clouds that swirled around it, so that it looked like an old man’s hair, and to notice when the snow drifts piled just so to look like an old man’s beard. So, the mountain came to be known as the Old Man, and the people respected its stern, serious face as a fact in their lives.

Until it came to be known, as these things always are, that no one had ever climbed to the top of the Old Man. It was always the last dare, the one that won the contest, the one that no one would ever undertake.

But one day, a group of young people was playing in the lake on a hot summer day. They thought longingly of how much cooler it would be a little further up the mountain. And of course, in the back of their minds, they thought about how proud everyone would be of them if they were the first people to see the village from the very top.

“We don’t have to climb all the way up,” they reasoned with each other. “We can just go up a little way, just until the point where it starts to get snowy and cool. We’ll surely be home for dinner.”

But one girl shook her head. “It’s awfully high up there, and I’ve heard that the sun doesn’t reach all the way. So it will be dark too. What if we get lost?”

The other boys and girls laughed at her worries. “What harm could come to us, going just a ways up? An hour, maybe two, at the most. What could happen?”

And after that fateful question (as its always fateful in stories), they linked arms and began their climb up, up, up the Old Man. Even the young girl who had hesitated was caught up in the excitement of the group, and told herself that as long as they stayed together and stayed on their proclaimed course, the outing would be nothing more than a pleasant way to add excitement to their day.

Before long, they had trudged for hours, ensnaring themselves deep in a dark forest, where the tree branches clustered so thickly near the sky that they quite blocked out the sun.

“We should go back.” The girl pointed out. The other youths, nodded, frightened now, but soon everyone discovered that they didn’t know the path back to the village. The blackness all around them blotted out light, and they all grew confused. The wind rattled the branches like bones, and shrieked the terror that was growing within their hearts.

No one could say when it happened, but finally, one by one, they all started to drop into a deep sleep from exhaustion, separated from each other by sleep.

This is what the girl dreamt.

She was alone now, trying without success to retrace her steps. But all of her knowledge had deserted her, and the ground kept shifting beneath her feet, stabbing them with tiny pebbles and errant thorns.

Some small birds sidled up to her and said, “We can carry you, for a time, if you give us what we desire.”


“We want your hair, to line our nests.”

And without a word, she nodded and the birds pulled her hair out strand by strand. Then they carried her for a few steps, and flew away laughing with their bounty.

Then a tree spoke to her. “If you give me what I desire, I can feed you, and then throw you to a tree several miles away.”

Again, the girl said, “Anything.”

“Give me your teeth, to plow into the ground and feed my seedlings.”

And so the girl nodded and the tree took her teeth. It threw her an apple, which she could barely gum, but which she took gratefully, mouthing it until it released its juice to her, and gave her strength. The tree kept its word to her, and threw her several miles, until she landed with a thump in a little clearing.

A group of ants approached her and said, “Give us what we want, and we’ll make sure that you can be saved.”


“Give us your breasts and your feet, for our Queen grows old and she desires to feel like a young mortal girl for a time.”

The girl hesitated for the first time, frightened at the request. But something about the ants inspired trust, and slowly, she nodded. The ants got to work, and nibbled off her body organs, until our girl felt herself grow weak and fainted.

When she came back to consciousness, she thought, in real despair. “I’m going to freeze to death. I can’t go on.” But still, she crawled now, over brambles and through mud, over a land that seemed to be one long shadow.

Unfortunately, soon she wrenched her knee so painfully that she gave one sharp cry. She pulled her tattered cloak around her and lay face down on the ground, unable to move.

No one knows how long she lay like this. Eventually, however, she saw a pair of dainty feet in her vision. Achingly, she moved her head up and saw a genial, pudgy little old lady smiling kindly down at her.

“My dear! You look terrible. I’ll have to get you to my cottage.”

“But…I have no feet to walk. I can’t move. I’m stuck.”

“Nonsense.” Said the old lady briskly. “I’ll carry you.” And without another word, the old lady picked the girl up and slung her over her shoulders as though she were nothing but a scarf carried in the wind. Briefly, the girl wondered how the old lady was able to call upon such strength, but then her weakness overpowered again and the girl fainted.

When she awoke, she sat in a warm cozy cottage, with red walls covered with paintings of women which moved and swayed to music only they could hear. A fire danced too, in a golden grate. And the old woman hummed to herself as she stirred something in an enormous pot on a stove.

The girl felt her stomach rumble, so loudly it caught the old lady’s attention from across the room.

“Goodness, dearie! You’ve slept a long time! Quickly, sit and eat some of this good soup.”

The girl pulled herself to the table and climbed into a chair. Quick as a wink, the old lady ladled some soup into a enormous bowl and placed it in front of the girl.

It was a strange looking stew, with seaweed that looked like hair, and white corn that looked like teeth, chicken’s feet and dumplings. Still, the girl was starving and she started to eat as fast as her gums could move. In between bites, the little old lady began to ask her questions, most of which the girl answered with her mouth full of food.

“So…what are you doing here?”

“Grum, um, looking for that Old Man.” The girl swallowed, and began again. “We just wanted to see what it would be like on the mountain. We call it the Old Man, because of, well…we just do. And we were just curious.”

“Well, curiosity is a good thing. Most of the time.”

The girl finished her bowl of stew and sat, expectantly, waiting for something to happen. For she had already divined that this was no ordinary old lady, and the ingredients of the stew? Well, they HAD to mean something. She touched her head a few times, and the nubs were her feet had been, and the inside of her mouth. The old lady watched her, and said nothing.

Suddenly, the girl was gripped with a profound grief and regret, as wide as the world and as deep as the blackest sea. “Oh, they’re gone forever! My friends! My body! Oh, I wish I were dead!”

To this, the old lady merely smiled. “There we go! Now we’re back to life. Now, we can start the work.”

“The…work?” The girl blew her nose with a funereal air, and waited.

“Oh, you thought the soup would fix everything! This is no fairy tale, dearie.” The old lady laughed. “You certainly have a great deal to learn. No.” She continued, briskly, “That was just to give you the strength to go forth and get back what is yours. You need to find the birds, the tree, and the ants who took your things.”


“One thing at a time. We’ll worry about the OTHER things, later.”

And with that, the girl found herself back in the clearing, alone, with a very full belly and a pair of wooden feet. Gingerly, she stepped down on them, wincing in pain. But before long, they grew comfortable and she was grateful, as her walk back was very long indeed.

But in due course, she found the tree again—with the birds nesting in a home of her hair, and an anthill burrowing below the roots. And she was very afraid, but remembered her stew and the little old lady and shouted, “Tree! Birds! Ants! I come back to claim what is mine!”

Silence, then a small, disturbed twittering. “But…you gave them to us!”

“I know their value now. And they can never really belong to you.”

“What will you give us in return?” Asked the wily birds.

“Well…if you give me the upper part of my hair, the hair with the roots, I’ll be happy to give you the lower.” For she needed the living hair to return to her.

Without ado, the birds dumped the hair back on her head, and it grew firm and fast.

“What will you give me in return?” asked the solemn tree.

“Teeth don’t help anything grow but me. But…” She cast about, looking for inspiration. “Look at all of this lovely dirt, and dead leaves! I’ll put together a mulch for you in a trice.” She created such a potent, magical mulch of mud and leaves and excrement that the tree sighed in happy relief.

And her teeth rose back through the black dirt, so that she could scoop them up.

The ants watched her and said nothing. Then the queen said, “You’ll have to do better than THAT for us. You won’t convince me.”

Again, the girl looked inside for inspiration. In a moment, she smiled and said, “Can’t we share? If I swallow you, we’ll both have the experience of being in a young maiden’s body, no? Wouldn’t a complete body be better than just having breasts and feet?”

The ant queen smiled and crawled up into the girl’s mouth. “I can see, I can see through her eyes!” she said as a joyous farewell to her ant colony. “Be good to your next queen!” The ants waved their little legs and cheered.

Triumphant, the girl returned to the little old lady, now whole again.

“I did as you said, and here I am! But…I still grieve for my friends.”

“That’s because you aren’t done.” Replied the old lady, and pulled the girl into a room full of mirrors. A breeze ruffled both of their hair, and the girl could see that they BOTH had replicas of the Old Man mountain in the backs of their heads.

The old lady grinned. “What you search for is always closer than you think. Now we must dance with him.”

Then they held hands and spun around so that it was impossible to see where one ended and one began The reflections in the mirrors showed one girl, spinning madly, surrounded by the images of all of her beloved friends, spinning as well.

With a dizzy thud, the girl woke up and saw her friends sleeping huddled close by. Gleefully, she woke them up and said, “I know I can find the way home now!”

What was dream and what reality? Who can say?

But for the rest of their lives, those youths smiled at the mountain, and whispered their secrets to it for safekeeping.

And the girl never stepped on any ants.

Continue reading...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Sunday Scribblings: Fantasy--Pretty Things (a fiction)

But do they look like fairies? From here

You wouldn’t know it to look at me, but I’ve always had a weakness for pretty things. Back when we first moved to this house, I opened all of those boxes that I had been saving—the ones full of small figurines and china dolls and little pink tea sets. Oh, I loved dainty, and overstuffed cushions for the couches, and framed pictures on the wall. It was the prettiest house on the block, not for nothing. I guess I thought it was all practice. I was so sure I would have a girl someday, and that we’d look at all of that stuff together.

And then the boys came. One, two, three of them, one after the other. Those years were tough. No sleep, tantrums, worrying about them putting Draino in their mouths and ending up in a little coffin (those things gave me nightmares). Not that I didn’t…don’t…love them, because I do. They are still the most adorable things ever, even though I don’t tell them that anymore. They hate to hear it, duck their heads down like colts and sigh, “Aw, Mom…”. That’s my cue to stop it. They’re boys, after all.

During their toddler years, when they weren’t trying to plunge themselves head first down the stairs, my boys loved nothing more than taking all of my little dolls and my little dainties and smashing them on the ground, with a great big war whoop of triumph. “’Gain, ‘Gain, Mommy!” And what could I do? They were babies, couldn’t even talk yet. So I got out my boxes and I packed everything away again—all of the china dolls, and all of my little figurines, and my picture frames. I figured I’d take them out again when the boys got old enough to mind their manners around them, but somehow, days went around turning into years and I never got back to them. So the boxes stayed in the attic.

I didn’t expect to have any more children. Not that I was too upset about it. I got into a real comfortable routine with the boys—I understood them, their hurts and their games and their victories. It was home, my husband and my boys and I. And I was getting older, so it stopped looking like it made any sense. I don’t mean to give you the impression that I was resigned or anything. That makes me it sound like I felt a lack of some kind, and I honestly can say I didn’t. My boys were plenty for me, a gift, and they filled up my whole soul.

But when I found out I was pregnant again…and with a girl this time, well, I won’t lie about that either. It was like sunlight was curling around corners, streaming through every space in the world.

And she was a beautiful little thing, my Hazel—and I don’t just say that because I’m her mother. She was the kind of baby that made you feel like your insides were crumbling a little whenever you looked at her. Like you wanted to die, or something, to devote yourself to her.

I would take her up to the attic, show her the boxes, tell her what was in each one…all of the little ceramic horses, and tea sets, and all of the fun we would have with them all. I’d pull out a doll or two, and hold it next to her, the two of them almost the same size. And she’d reach out for the doll, and I’d put it away again, but with a different feeling than when I did it with the boys. This was temporary. I had hope again.

As Hazel grew up, though, she grew with her brothers. All rough and tumble, and scratchy edges. She wanted to follow them everywhere, spend all of her time with them. I swear, it was like she needed to be the most destructive one of all! So, again, I kept everything in the attic, safe. Until it didn’t make much sense to pull any of it out, at all.

This past summer, Hazel turned twelve, and the change was quick. She’d always been a big reader, begging me to read her Goodnight Moon until the boards fell apart, but now she was spending all her time holed up in her bedroom, reading these fat fantasy books—you know the kind, the ones with fairies on the cover, with long drapey wings, or magic wands shooting sparks that looked like dying stars.

The other thing that happened, happened more slowly. Hazel went from being a fat, rosy baby and toddler, to a tall, solemn little girl, to…well, I don’t know WHAT I would call her now. Awkward, I suppose, all angles and squints. “It’s a tough age, babe.” I’ve tried to tell her more than once. “Your body’s just trying to decide what it’s going to be when it grows up.”

She’d cock her head at me, considering. “What if it doesn’t want to be beautiful?”
And I’d rub her shoulders and hold her close, for what could I tell her? Nothing’s promised.

So all this is to explain when I didn’t think anything of the box she got in the mail yesterday. I just thought it was another box full of books—she gets those every now and again from her father. He feeds her those fantasy novels she loves so much.

But when she didn’t come down for breakfast this morning, I went up to her room. Mother’s intuition kicked in, or something.

I found her there, standing teetering by the mirror, staring anxiously at herself. On the floor was the box, half opened, with all sorts of tubes and potions and powders. Not quite makeup. Maybe what passes for makeup in those books of hers. It all looked like a science experiment.

“Hazel…?” I asked, trying to sound gentle. I got a tear stained face back. “It’s not working!”
“What’s not working?” Again, gentle. Four kids have taught me that they’ll confess in their own time.
“The magic!”

Ok, now I was flummoxed.

“The magic…I saw this stuff advertised in the back of one of my magazines. Guaranteed to work…”
“And do what?”

“Make me beautiful!” she wailed. I was caught up. I honestly didn’t think she cared all THAT much.
“I mean…the world…it’s so beautiful and I love to look at it, and I think that if I was beautiful, the world would love to look at me too. It’s only fair. Except it’s not working, so I’m just taking from the world and it’s not fair and…” and then the tears started again.

“But…who says the world doesn’t love to look at you?”

“You don’t.” she pointed out. “Look at our house. It’s the ugliest house on the block. Because you think that if you put out any pretty things, they’ll grow miserable because all they have to look at is…us. Because you know it’s not fair!”

What could I say to that? I wasn’t even sure I understood it. Until I looked in the mirror myself, looked and saw a woman who wasn’t quite pretty herself anymore. A woman who kept all of her dainties in the attic waiting for…what? For some fantasy to become a reality?

I looked at Hazel again, and the fantasy fell away with some shock and I saw her. As changable and beautiful as those magic fairies in her books. Sometimes fantasy can be a way of not knowing your own heart.

And after I assured Hazel that her magic box was already SURELY working, even if it took a little longer to finish up, I went up to the attic and got out my own magic boxes.

Maybe keeping beautiful things around us is a way of saying thank you to the beautiful things inside of us. Maybe it's a way of really seeing ourselves, after all.

Time to stop protecting my pretty things from getting broken, and give back to the world.

It's only fair.

For more fantasies, go here

Labels: ,

Continue reading...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Untie yourself!

In India, they believe in something called the muhurat, or the auspicious time to begin a task. People trying to ensure success in their marriages, or their new businesses, or any other endeavor, ask a pundit to check their astrological chart to find the right day and time to start.

If only I could confine myself to the right day and time. Instead, I tie my desires to so many other variables that I can’t seem to tease out what I originally WANTED to do from all of the newly created barriers.

Take my new desire to start meditating on a regular basis. I’ve read that it’s very beneficial to mediate first thing in the morning—that it helps you set a positive intention for the rest of the day. So I’ve gotten it in my head that I shouldn’t start until I can find a morning.

You see where this is going, don’t you?

We co-sleep with Madam, and I usually don’t wake up until she wakes me up. The few times I have managed to get out of bed without waking her, it does not take her long to realize that I am gone, and to register her displeasure. Loudly.

I could, theoretically, wake up MUCH earlier, in the wee hours of the morning, and hope that having TEG in the bed will fool her into continuing her slumber. But then…I’d be SO tired the rest of the day, and thus irritable with her, and…

And then I feel so bound by all of these plans and conditions that I feel immobile, trapped in fly paper. I spend the whole rest of the day feeling vaguely as though I’ve betrayed myself.

I’m doing the same thing with returning to my novel. The other day, while Madam napped, I took a deep breath and started leafing through the planning notebook I set up back in October. Unfortunately, my notes are SO voluminous (can someone please point me to a good outlining resource? Because I ALWAYS get stuck at this stage!) that I immediately started feeling dizzy and overwhelmed. So I thought, “Well, once I start meditating, I’ll have the presence of mind to go through all of this material and hopefully pick up the trail of my old ideas.” The saner part of my mind was trying to remind me that when I finished the first half of the novel in November, I’d been planning to firm up my plot for the second half. In another words, nothing had been fixed. Yet, I still feel that if I don’t decipher my complicated notes and follow THAT plan, I will be failing my novel.

And then I spent that rest of that day feeling as though I’d betrayed myself.

I believe I tie my REAL goals to all of the ancillary goals for the same reason some Indians seek help from the pundits—to try and ensure success, to ensure that I won’t fail, or worse, to ensure that I don’t succeed a LITTLE and THEN fail, thus getting a glimpse of the realization of my better self only to have it snatched away.

But the more hoops I set up for myself, the less chance I’ll have to getting through ALL of them at the same time.

Which, come to think of it, might be the plan my Fear has had all along.

Well, tonight I took a chance and meditated at night, after I put Madam down. Maybe it’s not right after all. Maybe I’m cheating myself of the TRUE experience, available only to those who meditate in dawn’s early light. Maybe going back to my novel based on ideas I dream up now instead of the original plan will result in a vastly inferior work. But I'd rather know that through the actual experience, instead through my fearful, inertial imaginings.

Hopefully my imperfect experience will help me loosen some of the threads that bind, and help me remember that having the auspicious time is only a part of the accomplishing the goal. The bulk of the effort still has to be...effort.

And I think even the pundits would agree.


Continue reading...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Rose's Gift (a fairy tale)

Beata Beatrix circa 1864-70 by Dante Gabriel Rossetti from the Tate Online

(Ed. Note. As always, sorry so long! I kept trying to make it shorter and it kept getting beyond me! Hope you read and enjoy anyway.)

I’ve heard it carried in the sigh of a certain wind, caressing the eaves of my house at night, or on the weary backs of the eagles as they return from their journeys to far off lands. This tale drips from the whispers of raindrops as they land on the black thudding earth.

Once there was a City fashioned with stardust and the vines of summer creepers, visible on the horizon between dusk and dawn. This City was blessed with rich, fertile lands and people as good-hearted as they were industrious. Soon they grew owl-round with prosperity. People in the neighboring cities would look at the glinting buildings and try to shield their children’s eyes, for they didn’t want to lose their young ones. But even they sighed at the wonder, and took a moment before they turned back to their own workaday tasks.

The land all around the City was ruled by a wise king and even wiser queen, who showed their people a life of celebration, communion with nature, and everyday magic.

It was a good place to live.

Until one day, inevitably perhaps, fortunes began to turn. The city’s allure was too great, and too many people began to steal into its borders in an attempt to seek their kismet there. The population explosion taxed the black earth until it could provide no more. The rains stopped falling. Food grew scarce, and finally, ran out. The City was gripped by a severe plague of doubt, disease, and famine.

And worst of all, the good Queen, the wise Queen, died of grief at the sight of so many of her people suffering. And the King grew weak and confused, and soon lawlessness reigned where there was once order, and ugliness where there was once magnificence.

One would imagine that the neighboring areas would harbor a little bit of satisfaction as they watched the City falter and fail. After all, they had all lost loved ones to that glinting Promised Land. They had watched their own lives look dull and squalid by comparison. They had sat in disappointment at the mundane direction of their lives.

But these were basically kind folk, and if they felt that way, they didn’t let on. Immediately, they began to organize vast caravans of aid to traverse the now barren, arid lands surrounding the City—lands that had once been so laden with riches and crops that they seemed to stretch in every direction. But now, only dust and remnants remained.

In spite of all of the much-appreciated help, though, the City remained stunned by hopelessness and loss. It seemed nothing—no food, no drink, no money from foreign lands—could restore it to its once celestial glory. Old timers blamed the death of the Queen, and subsequent withdrawal of the King. “Without them,” they would sigh, “what examples do we have? Who will show us the way to go on living? We can fill our bellies, but our hearts and souls remain empty and lost.

A small, plain woman named Rose watched these happenings with a secret grief in her heart. She lived in a small, thatched little cottage, chosen so many years ago because of its views of the City from every room. As a girl, she has thought that someday she would like to live there, very much, once she got married. But, no one ever asked her, and she couldn’t imagine moving there by herself. So after her parents passed away, she used her small inheritance and bought herself the cottage, and in it she lived content enough, watching the City from afar and imagining the glories that surely surrounded the people who were lucky enough to live there.

At first, she didn’t want to believe it. It seemed to be growing faint, like a star at dawn. The fields around it, normally so verdant and lush, became parched, withered, and then finally died. The malaise was spreading its poisoned fingers throughout the land, until finally the City was on the verge of annihilation.

She had to do something.

So she gathered everything she could find of value in her small cottage—her healing herbs and her pots and pans, her books of poetry, her small store of jewels—and wrapped them in a rucksack and began to make her way to the City. Not inside of it, oh, no, she still did not believe she was worthy enough to live there, even in its present condition—just to the outskirts. Just close enough to find some kind person to carry her load inside, to offer her small help to the suffering denizens of the City.

Before long, she came across a richly appointed caravan, a gift from another city from beyond the horizon. Exotic animals cawed and cooed in the dead air. Palms waved languidly, cooling the servants who carried boxes laden with gold, with rare herbs and plants, with life-giving food and wines. Shyly, she approached a man at the head of the parade, and offered her own rucksack. “Could you take this along to the City for me?”

He laughed.

“Why, that puny basket looks completely out of place around our treasures! It might even insult the King of the City, even in his fallen state!”

The woman shrank into the shadows and said no more. She watched the caravan until its people were merely dots along the horizon.

She waited, and soon saw a grouping of young girls and women, lugging baskets of fragrant fruits and herding lowing cows, heading towards the City.

“Could you please take this to the City for me?” she asked, a little tremulously. She was still smarting from the first man’s response.

“We’re all full up.” A woman replied, not unkindly. “Got no more room for anything.”

And Rose nodded sadly, and let them go on their way.

Days and nights went by, and Rose felt as though she was rooted to her spot in the desert, watching the sand blast its way north and south, and east and west. No one had passed her for some time.

Finally, a small child walked by, carrying a small sack of potatoes and pulling a reluctant goat, making his own determined way to the City.

Rose hesitated, but desperation made her bold.

“Little boy…can you take this to the City for me?”

The little boy glanced at Rose, and the rucksack. His eyes were wise pools in his sunburned little face.

“It’s your gift, ain’t it?” And with that, he walked away.

Rose stood, thunderstruck. Her ancient fears warred with the boy’s wisdom, and before she knew it, she was putting one foot in front of the other and moving towards the City.

When she arrived, she faltered once more. But the City was in its death throes. It needed all possible aid.

“I’ll just sneak in, drop this off, and leave.” She told herself. “No one needs to even see me.”

But as soon as she passed through the threshold, trumpets blasted on all sides. People stopped what they were doing and looked at her curiously. The commotion even caught the ear of the King, who rushed down to look.

She wanted to sink into the ground. Well, I’ve come this far.She sighed, even as she quaked with nameless fear. Whatever happens now, happens.

Soon, the people approached her and began taking things out of her rucksack. The herbs were exclaimed over, and soon midwives and nurses were busy creating salves to cured the sick and plague ridden. The seeds fell unbidden on the ground and the earth already looked healed. People began reading the books in groups, laughing and light hearted once more.

It appeared she had brought exactly what the City needed.

When the King saw Rose, he took her hand and said, “My dear departed Queen came to me in a dream last night and said, ‘Today you’ll meet a woman with long green hair, like a mermaiden. Take this woman and make her your Queen, and you and the City shall suffer no more.’”

Confused, Rose backed away. “Green hair? Mermaid? No, no…I’m just…ordinary. I’m nothing.”

The King smiled and led her to a small stream, where he showed Rose her reflection in the waves. Now, maybe it was a trick of the light, maybe it was the shimmering of the water, but her hair DID look green and it DID look long. When had she grown so beautiful? And when had she stopped looking at herself at all?

“You are far from ordinary, Rose. You saved the City. You saved us all.” The King appeared young and restored once more.

And with that, a great wedding feast was prepared, and all of the members of every aid caravan attended, with the little boy and his goat in a place of honor.

And Rose wore her own jewels, having learned well the lesson about bringing her own gifts.

And the City celebrated and prospered once more, never again taking for granted their good fortune.

Or so I hear told in the hush of the winter’s first snowfall, as the sun burns the clouds away between dawn and dusk.


Continue reading...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sunday Scribblings--Ideas

Behind that placid facade lies a dark secret...from

I suppose you could say I’ve been obsessed with ideas all of my life. The heft of them, big and small, crowding my imagination like so many celestial gumdrops, to be masticated slowly and with great enjoyment.

Unfortunately, for almost as long, I have been tormented by the idea of not having enough ideas. Or not having good ones.

Where did this fear come from? Well, I suppose we could lay the blame on Barbie’s slender plastic shoulders. Barbies, in my house, were a competitive sport. Oh, as the wiser, seven-year-older sister, Punkish Middle Sister often had to be cajoled to play them with me. But it never took long. Secretly, she gloried in the chance to play out some of the nascent dramatics brewing in her own mind.

She would wait until I started spelling forth my own character’s history, and plot line. Wait until she knew my storytelling powers were spent. Then, she’d begin weaving her own Barbie’s tale, one that always seemingly put mine to shame. One that was always, in every way, better. More exciting, more enchanting, more romantic. I was spellbound by her stories, mine seeming pallid and bland by comparison. Inevitably, when I complimented her, Punkish Middle Sister would say something like, “That’s because I have an imagination.” Or something else that implied that I, alas, didn’t have much of one.

Until then, I don’t think I thought about it as having or not having an imagination—I don’t think I believed an imagination could be possessed at all, but was steeping all of us like tea bags, until only the thinnest barrier existed between us and It.

Before Barbie, I loved telling stories using any close by object as inspiration—my Mami’s curvy perfume bottles, pots and pans, the People Who Lived in the Stereo and Knew all the Words to the Songs—anything. I didn’t think to judge these stories beyond the feeling of pleasure they gave me. They were a happy mish posh of overheard (and half understood) family gossip, fairy tales, plots from old Latin soap operas, everything. But after Punkish’s remarks, I started viewing them with a more critical eye. Were they any good? They didn’t seem to have come from me, after all. Not original. Not good enough.

After a while, I stopped sharing my mediocre versions of Barbie’s adventures, and adopted whichever one my sister has concocted. My Barbies became the admiring best friends, the second bananas. My poor Barbies stopped being central in their own lives, and started hanging out on the sidelines.

But I was basically an optimistic child. I had heard a statistic claiming that people only use a small percentage of their brain’s capacity. Perhaps that was true for imagination as well! I would learn how to train my imagination until it was no longer a 70 pound weakling!

I kept lists of my ideas, judging them worthy or unworthy based on some criteria I no longer remember. Whenever I wished on a star, or blew on a dandelion puff, or prayed in church on Sunday morning, I made the same request. Please give me an imagination. Please let me have lots of ideas. Because by now I was thoroughly convinced that not only did ideas have to be creative, somehow, they also had to be plentiful. Failure on either of these fronts meant that my sister was right about me. And even back then, all I wanted was to think of myself as an artistic, as a writer.

I started reading everything I could find on creativity, on brainstorming, on imagination. My search quickly lead me into the thickets of psychology, into the forests of New Age thought, into the palaces of philosophy. These studies absolutely changed the basic ways in which I see the world, and I am the better for them. I’m grateful that I was put on that road.

And yet.

Years later, I still feel this basic lack of ideas. Perhaps I am still judging them unworthy, so swiftly that they don’t even see the light of consciousness. Rationally, I know that it doesn’t have to be a competition. I know that ideas come from all sorts of sources—from the combination of a half-remembered story and today’s newspaper headlines and a line from a poem we read last year. I know that trying to force them is pointless—that we need to be open and receptive, that desperation drowns out the voice of the Muse. And I know that my sister was only trying to bolster her own wobbly self-esteem, trying to be better than someone, and who better than her younger sister?

And yet.

Some part of my imagination remains trapped there. Still trying to come up with ideas that would impress my sister and allow her to view me as a Barbie-plotting equal.

Still trying to feel like enough.
For more ideas about ideas, go here.

Labels: ,

Continue reading...

Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Father Time and Baby New Year from Frolic & Fun, 1897-found on Wikipedia
I suppose a little throat clearing is in order. It almost feels as though I should re-introduce myself. Uh, I’m Mardougrrl, intrepid (and frazzled) mother of toddler Madam, wife of busy TEG, desperately wannabe writer.

See, I find milestones daunting. I tend to freeze up just when I want to be most fluid, creative, inspiring. So when I realized that not only would this be my hundredth post on One Hand Typing, but also my first post of the New Year…I clammed up. I wanted some sort of grand summation of events, or else a polished piece of limpid fiction or poetry to justify taking so much time away. But soon it became clear that none of that would happen, and meanwhile time flowed on, and I hated feeling so disconnected from my blog tribe. So here I am…wanting so badly to blog that I am willing to blog, well, badly.

Do not doubt that this place has changed me. Reading you all has changed me, also. I thought I would be able to remain bobbing on the surface of my life, writing pithy little posts about motherhood and life that would entertain me and, perhaps, one or two other people. But instead, the search for something to say led me to tunnel through my mind, my history. And I haven’t liked everything I have discovered. But I’m grateful for all of it. Even the anger, even the darkness.

So, a belated Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Eid Mubarak, Happy Kwanzaa.

In my brief time online since I’ve been back from the holidays (I thought the flight alone with Madam would be the worst part, but it was not having access to a computer!) I noticed that some of you have made lists of 365 things you are grateful for from the past year, as a way of greeting the New Year. That is quite beyond me at the moment, but I did make a list of twelve thoughts I want to let go of in 2007.

1) I need someone else to live out my life’s dreams for me.
2) I can’t go after my dreams; they are too impractical.
3) If I have not done what I want, it’s because I’m not innately that kind of person.
4) My fears tell me about myself—they tell me I’m not capable.
5) Being a mother means giving up fun and deferring dreams indefinitely.
6) If I find ways that make it easier for me to achieve my dreams, I shouldn’t need to use them because they are obviously crutches and prove I am weak and undeserving.
7) People I admire would never and will never like me.
8) All of my negative thoughts about me are true.
9) It’s too late, I’m too old, I can’t change now—too much history has gone by.
10) I can’t learn to meditate—it’s for other people.
11) I have to cling to all of my old stories about myself—whether they serve me or not—because they are True.
12) If I don’t do it right, I shouldn’t do it at all—I can’t learn, or make mistakes. Doing it wrong, even at the beginning, means I am not meant to do it. (And the corollary to this thought—if it is not absolutely original, it is unworthy. Imitation is a sin worthy of Hades.)

Here’s to creating more mental space for new, affirming thoughts in 2007.


Continue reading...