Saturday, July 28, 2007

Sunday Scribbling: Phenomenon

(Needs NO introduction...)

Do you remember what it was like to watch your older siblings or parents getting ready to go out on a Saturday night, when you were too young to go? It was a ritual that began in the late afternoon. My mother and older sisters would carefully pin up their hair in enormous wire curlers (that we called “rollers”) to try and tame their curly hair into something approximating Farrah Fawcett's famed “shag.” Then there were the costume changes—long skirt or shorter? High heeled boots or wedges? And then, the hours spent in the bath and doing their makeup. When they finished and finally released their hair from its confinement, they looked like dazzling late 70s pinups.

The men in my family were not far behind. My father had a shiny black suit for such occasions, a suit I can only describe as pimp-like. He liked to pair it with a poly-silk blend shirt with a rather wide collar. His handkerchiefs (monogrammed, naturally) always smelled deeply of his favorite cologne. My brother was more adventurous in his attire. That white John Travolta suit of “Saturday Night Fever” fame? He owned a replica. Along with the stacked heeled shoes to go with it. He would strut around the apartment in a low slung towel, carefully laying out his clothes down to the socks. His ebony straight hair, the envy of every female in my family, flopped fashionably in his eyes.

These nights were the epitome of vicarious pleasure for me. While I stayed home with a tia watching the Love Boat, the rest of my family was off to live the glamorous Three's Company party life. Hey, I was young, and not very sophisticated. To me, being an adult meant being able to go out dancing like Chrissy, Janet, Jack, and Larry.

This is all to explain a bit of how I felt the last couple of weeks, during the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon. Like the world had decided to throw itself a party, and all I could do was watch it get dressed and boogie out of the door.

Oh, I have read (most) of the books—ravenously gobbled up books one, two, three, and four, but started to lose a little taste for it sometime around book five. I never got around to book six, and well, here we are.

But this post isn't really about that.

No, I was fascinated by the growing sense of celebration and excitement experienced by the fans. For years, they had plowed so much of their attention, love, and creativity into this fictional realm. They went online to plot out elaborate theories, to debate their various romantic preferences, to connect to others who felt as they did. They wrote reams of fan fiction; posted gorgeous music videos cobbled together from movie scenes.

And so, this was their moment. They sowed passion, and reaped a joyful riot in return.

It all made me think about what I was digging deeply in my own life. I'm the kind of person who is happiest when she's passionately, obsessively consumed with something—whether it be a relationship, a work of art or pop cultural entertainment, or anything. I love being invested at that level—the satisfaction of "your" team wins the World Series, or World Cup. The way some people feel when their fictional romantic couple finally declares their undying love, and shares a kiss. Finally get to see the Police reunite, or hear Aida at the Met.

If I am honest, I am not giving myself away in that way right now. Sure, I am engaged in the day to day mothering of my Madam, and while that is deeply satisfying, even joyful work, it's not quite...the same for me, for reasons I can't exactly articulate. I am getting close with my novel (finally started to daydream about the characters, a sure sign that they are becoming real for me), but...that's solitary work. And my poor little blog is also suffering from my posts are more scattered, less frequent. I feel disconnected from this place, and from the larger blogsphere that once fed me.

I am sowing inattention, and reaping apathy.

So, while hordes of Hogwarthian revelers thrilled at the culmination of their particular passionate phenomenon on July 21 at 12:01am, I made a quiet vow to myself. I would remember this “Saturday night Love Boat outsider” feeling, and use it to as a reminder of feed my passions, and spend myself in them, no matter how foolish they may look to outsiders.

I'm already planting the seeds.

For more phenomenal posts, go here.

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Friday, July 27, 2007


I've always taken my inspiration from one of my favorite literary heroines, “I'll think about that tomorrow.

Yes, I've always been a procrastinator. I counted on that late burst of adrenaline to power me through the hard part of papers in college. When I worked in publishing, many nights saw me hunched over the kitchen table, flipping through a manuscript I needed to read by the next day, praying that the words would take over and make me forget the sleep I was missing. Besides, there was always the weekend. I could sleep in!

Moment of silence for the weekend sleep-in.

So, yes, I've always procrastinated, but I vowed that after Madam, I would get things done efficiently. Like a good mother.

For the most part, I have kept to this pledge. Oh, sure, the writing goes slowly more often than not, and let's not talk about the state of my nails, or my waistline. But mothering tasks, those get done promptly—bills paid, appointments made, dinner made, laundry done (and done...and done...).

I'll try not to hurt myself with the back patting.

But this post is about a mothering task I AM procrastinating about...I can't seem to find my way into it, and oh, it so needs to be done, like, yesterday.

I am talking about weaning. I need to night wean, desperately.

And I have no one to blame but myself. Everyone said it. Don't let the baby associate sleep with nursing. Don't don't DON'T!

I was so careful on this point, so aware. I would nurse her until DROWSY, just like the books said, and then rocked or walked or sang her the rest of the way. And TEG took at least one of the night wakings. Anyone, with enough patience and a soft touch, could put her to sleep. TEG, my mother, sister, MIL, SIL, friends, heck, even my Father-in-law could do it.

And it was good. I was smug, I admit it. Madam was a good but fairly indifferent nurser, and I had apparently dodged the “nurse/sleep association” bullet.

I was kicked out of Eden at about six months. Madam and I got sick, and in order to get us through it, I did the awful, terrible, very bad, no good thing. I started nursing to sleep.

And now I can't seem to stop. I've tried sleeping away from her. I've tried singing, rocking, patting, stroking. Madam's had a taste of the good life, and she'll be damned if she'll let go now. I am. Exhausted—she wakes about seven times a night. Aching (not to get too graphic, but Madam has all her teeth and enjoys a bit of thrashing while she nurses. You make the connections). I've always loved nursing her—her little sighs of contentment, her plump hand like a sleeping starfish on her breast, her little head nodding yes, yes while she drank.'s time to stop procrastinating now. Beyond time. At least at night. Have I mentioned that I am tired? And achy? And that I live in an apartment building and thus can't just let her cry, even if I wanted to (and believe me, lately I am more than open to that)?

So, I appeal to you, lovely internet readers—please, break it down for me—night weaning? Without screaming? How?

And here is my public service announcement—don't do the awful, terrible, very bad, no good thing. Don't nurse to sleep. No, no...not “just this once.” Because there will BE no “once.” Once the baby's figured it out, there is no turning back. For either of you. It's just too easy. the Ancient Mariner (who I resemble more and more these days), heed my tale of woe!

Thus ends my PSA.


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Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When short on!

Honestly, people, where HAS my blogging voice gone? I couldn't even find a way to work through the Sunday Scribbling post this week...and the word was wicked. WICKED, people. I love that word. I can use it as a noun, an adjective, and possibly even a verb. I am steeped in wicked. And yet...nothing.

Even though Madam fills my days with profound love and occasionally aching frustration, I seem to lack that gift that turns those events into charming, bloggable stories.

I would love to say that my thoughts are tumbling ever forth, like a rushing river, but powering movement towards my novel instead of my happy blog. And actually, that's not entirely far from the truth. While I am not exactly writing, per se, I am plotting again--immersing myself in the world of my novel to such an extent that I am beginning, slowly, to hear their voices again. And to have more of a sense of what they are doing, and why I care about what they are doing.

Now, I just need to tell myself the story of how it ends, and then I can go back to the work of putting one word after another. For some reason, I can't write anything until I have a pretty clear idea about the ending. Anyone else have this problem? Have you discovered a workaround?

Thanks to the lovely Kate, I can pretend I have something to say.

Eight things about me:

1) I hear music in my head ALL DAY LONG. It's my radio. I just finished a book that referred to it as the "jingle channel" and mentioned that no psychologist has really bothered to study it.

2) So now, of course, I want to study it.

3) Unfortunately, I also have a "horror channel"--where I see all sorts of Gothic horrors surprising me in dark closets, narrow hallways, etc. Sometimes I think my true talent must lie in horror writing, but then I am afraid that I'll be MORE afraid all of the time.

4) Since starting this blog, I have completely changed my mind about one thing--I no longer believe that our present lives need to be negatively impacted by our upbringing. I still write about my childhood and my parents, but more in the service of the stories themselves, instead of looking at them as some sort of a Master Key that will "fix" my life.

5) That being said, I am still looking for that "Master Key" that will fix my life.

6) I take out entirely too many books from the library, and then feel guilty and stressed that I can't finish them. Then, I return a bunch unread, feel virtuous for a bit, and repeat the whole cycle again.

7) I came very very close to working for a literary erotica publisher in New York--the same publisher who put out Henry Miller's novels. I actually got to have a long talk with the man himself. The publisher. Not Henry Miller.

8) At the height of the breakdancing craze, I hired a friend of the family to teach the rudiments. I was all about 10 years old.

Bonus! 9) As of today, alas, I cannot break dance. But I can do a mean Worm, if you get me drunk enough.

Tagging: Jessie, Emmie, Heather, and, uh, YOU, if you want to play!


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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Sunday Scribbling: Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow (a short fiction)

Medusa by Carvaggio

Ed note: Yes, that is an unforgivable pun in the title...but what can I say? It fits my story. :)

It wasn't once upon just any old time. No, it was May 24, 1980—the day my sister and I were born.

“Gemini twins!” shrieked my Tia, happy to flash her astrological know how. “And they're right on the cusp.” The cusp of what, she refused to say.

We were not identical twins. Marta, my sister, was a whole pound heavier than I was. I know they say you can't remember your time in the womb, but I can imagine it—her using those fetus fins to sweep in more and more foody goodness, which I spun around in confused somersaults of starvation.

But that wasn't even the main difference. No, my sister was blessed with something else. The most beautiful, wavy, fairy tale hair you ever saw. Never frizzy, never flat. The kind of hair described as “raven tresses cascading like a waterfall” down some heroine's back.

And the rest of her lived up to the promise of her hair.

As for me? My hair also reminded people of a story—the story of Medusa. Kinky, curly wild hair that stood up and snarled at you. It would bite if you got too close.

I'd like to think the rest of me was an improvement over the tale my hair was telling people.

Things went along, we all grew older, and then one day, just before I turned eighteen, I woke up and saw that my hair was about six inches shorter. I thought it was a joke.

“Marta...did you cut my hair while I was sleeping?” It's kind of an odd question, but if you knew us, you would understand why I had to ask.

She sniffed, “Me? I don't go near that stuff without a rosary and a bottle of holy water!”

So it wasn't her. And if it wasn't her, then it wasn't anybody.

The next day, and the day after that, more inches. My hair seemed to be getting sucked back into my head.

I can't say it was any great loss.

On our eighteenth birthday, we had a huge party. Sometime after the cake was cut, I heard it.


My scalp had finished drinking in the last of my hair. I was now completely bald.

“Ay, Dios mio!” My mother said. “It wasn't very good hair, but bald! Hair is the crowning glory of a woman!”

“Not Jiselle's hair.” said Marta, trying to be soothing.

“And her with those freaky eyes, too” said my Papi. “Ojos que tragan.” Swallowing eyes.

Well, it would have been enough to depress almost anyone. But truth be told, I was happy to be rid of that hair. It never really felt like me.

Not that I didn't try to grow it back, or grow something back. I used special shampoos and conditioners and creams that made me feel like the first human Chia Pet. But at stubbornly wild as it had once been, it stayed just as stubbornly gone.

Nothing to be done. So Marta and I go off to college—different ones, thank goodness. And I played with wigs and hair color—pink for the punks, blonde for the party people, brown for the studious intellectual types.

It was with that latter group that I met Victor Rana. “Like the frog,” He said cheerfully, holding out his hand. “Ha,” I said, weakly. “You know your Spanish.” But Victor Rana did not look like anything at all like a frog. Quite the opposite—straight black hair that fell over his green eyes (I always look at the hair first, of course), tall, handsome. It didn't matter if his nose was a little bulbous, or if his lips a little too frankly full and feminine. He was my ideal man, my Prince Charming.

Which, of course, meant that he didn't think of me as anything but a good buddy, someone who always took perfect notes in class and was willing to share.

“What can I say? Those eyes, those eyes of yours see everything, know everything. They can see what the professor is going to write before he does it." Then his voice would drop and get all serious. "What else do they see, Jiselle?” I would never know what to say to that. Hope had never worked out for me before. So I would say something smart-ass and after a weird moment, he'd always just shrug and laugh.

Right before Halloween, Marta calls me and says she wants to come to campus. “I heard you all have an awesome party every year!” Typical. I was going to that school and I had never heard that.

She shows up a few days later, and we spend the whole day before the party getting ready. She's going as Rapunzel, of course. She's even prettier than I remember.

I fuss and search all of my wigs, looking for inspiration. But I can't think of anything to wear. Finally, I tell Marta, “You go on ahead. Just let me finish getting dressed.” Of course, I had no intention of showing up. Why should I? I could see where this was going to end up—Rapunzel and my Prince Charming would meet, fall madly in love. It had happened before, you see.

At around 11pm, there is a knock on the door. Marta must have forgotten something.

“Forget to let down your hair?”

It was Victor, looking adorable and confused. “What?”

Now I'm the one who looked confused, and not even close to adorable. Plus, I hadn't even put on a wig. So I was standing there, in front of Victor, totally bald.

“What...what are you doing here?” It occurred to me that he was looking for Marta. “She's at the dance,” I said, trying to pre-empt his question, act like I was all cool with the fact that he was infatuated with my sister.

He stopped at that, took a deep breath. Like he needed to prepare for whatever he was going to say next. Finally, he said “No,” and took my hand. “She's not.”

Turns out he hadn't just liked me for my note taking ability. And the bald thing didn't phase him at all, once he confirmed that it wasn't because I was ill. “It's kind of sexy.” He said. “Brings out those amazing eyes.”

Marta came back to the room after the party, and found us there, talking furiously, holding hands. She was thrilled for me, and so was the guy dressed like Prince Charming that she brought back from the dance.

And happily ever after? There's no after yet—just a beautiful now.

But the day after Victor and I started going out, I looked in the mirror and saw a slight peach fuzz growing on my scalp. And I smiled.

“Welcome back.”
For more curly tales, go here.

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Thursday, July 12, 2007

Storytelling, parents' style

Think of it as an exercise in storytelling. That is what I have been telling myself for the last week, as I listened to my parents narrate my life back to me, working themselves into fevered crescendos, quivering with italics and outrage.

Oh, I know they mean well, I do. They are just like those articles in the newspaper, the ones that swear that they will tell you the one way to avoid disaster and mice in the pantry, because you are the kind of special person who should never suffer, or deal with rodents in the rice. Except for the fact that my parents tend to skip the kind lead in, and thrust straight to the black heart of the matter.

They disapprove. And that is an understatement. They disapprove of my life so thoroughly that as I listened to them, I found myself agreeing—their arguments had such force, and passion, and characterization! If I could write the way my parents harangue, I am sure I would have a bestseller on my hands, or at least a page turner.

The thing is, they DO mean well, and they DID focus unerringly on several aspects of my life which are also causing me great dissatisfaction. The aforementioned weight gain, the disturbing lack of writing motivation, the long stretches of lonely days while TEG works himself into a fervor. TEG himself, and our relationship, or lately lack thereof. These are all things I have noticed myself, things that make me frown and look for solutions. So my parents' lectures were a bit like reading Cliff Notes for books I have already analyzed to death, but being no closer to writing that definitive paper on them. It's beyond frustrating to see problems but no answers everywhere. Where is the lag here? What am I not letting myself acknowledge?

I've spent most of the time since they left arguing with them, mustering up all of the arguments that would finally trump theirs, and prove to them that “see, I'm not such a passive little loser!”

But they can't hear that. No, they really can't, because in all of my 34 years on this earth I have never ONCE managed to outshout my parents when they feel strongly about something.

Their voices are still echoing in my ears, and I am working on separating what I agree with, what I can safely ignore, and what I need to recast in order to remove the sting of hurt and make it palatable. Because I don't agree with everything they said, especially with regards to my ambition (or as they see it, lack thereof). Just because I don't want what they want to me to want, doesn't mean I don't WANT at all.

Anyone who can make sense of that previous sentence gets a cookie. As you can see, the writing is and continues to be a problem. At this point, it's like a bad relationship—I want to do something dramatic for relief, to flounce away, tossing my hair. To get a restraining order against my manuscript.

I can see why people burn their writing. That one moment of freedom, of trumping, must be like an “AHA, IN YOUR FACE, WRITING!” even if you spend the rest of the time berating yourself for being weak.

Which leads me back to my parents and their visit. Other than the ego lambasting I received, this wasn't a bad time. My main goal was to have Madam spend more time with her grandparents and I think that aspect of the trip worked well.

Now I just need to spend a few days licking my wounds until I feel like I'm back in my life again.


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Sunday, July 08, 2007


My parents are in town for Madam's second birthday. These are the first words they said to me as we hugged near baggage claim:

"Oh, you've gotten FAT!"


The reality of them has chased all possibilities of writing away. I miss your wise words horribly. See you in a week, or so.

Wish me sanity.

PS: Writing about my fears below, and your compassionate responses, has helped me more than you know. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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Monday, July 02, 2007

Running from the fear

When I talk about fear here, I usually mean “fear of failure” or “fear of not writing” or even the ever present “Fear of being a bad mother.”

But this past week, I have been running away from a very different kind of fear. Physical fear. The fear of being harmed during one of my outings with Madam. The fear that something will happen that I cannot control. That I will not be able to protect her.

Since becoming a mother, I have had a few panic attacks, all centered around issues of Madam's care. One memorable episode was in the aisles of a grocery store—I was unnerved by my new responsibility—she was no longer nursing/on the bottle exclusively and I was attempting to chart the brave new world of solids. Perhaps for most mothers, this would not have been cause for alarm, but I've always had a perfect horror-movie script of an imagination. I could see Madam growing weak, ill, because I wasn't feeding her correctly. Or not enough. Or too much. Or the wrong foods.

You get the idea.

The most frightening attack, though, occurred this past winter. It was a rare warm-ish day and so I took Madam across the street to yet another grocery store (maybe the lesson here is to avoid grocery stores!). Being winter, darkness fell swiftly. When we left the store, it was completely black outside. Now, I don't want to be dramatic (well, not this time)--I live in a safe area of town, I was right across the street, and there were people shopping and walking and eating near by.

And yet. Suddenly, I was struck by how small she was, by how much she depended on me. But she felt safe, even though it was dark, because I was with her. And I felt completely unequal to that challenge.

It was so very dark.

I scooped her up in my arms, and basically ran back home. And it was fine, but so nerve wracking that I burst into tears upon handing her back to TEG.

What if? What if?

I don't go out with Madam in the darkness anymore, but lately these thoughts have even begun to haunt me in the day. What could I do to stop someone who was determined to hurt me or my child? Am I careful enough? Aware enough? So not going out in the dark has become practically not leaving the house at all. That means I haven't been able to see the awesome mommies I know here, because they live on the other side of town. Or take my daughter to story time. Or to browse in a bookstore.

It's become so very dark in my mind.

None of this is helped by my new addiction to the news. I read way more than is good for me—an assembly line of abducted women, families destroyed, children killed. Senseless, wanton. Terrifying. I know that these stories are usually hyped by a media who lives by the credo “If it bleeds, it leads.” I know that basically, we can take our precautions and hope for the best.

But it is very difficult to escape the feeling lately that women are targets. Women and children.

Becoming a mother has made me feel more vulnerable than anything in my life. I think back to the risks I used to take in my previous life--working late, walking down dark streets alone. Oh, I was always careful, and aware. So what has changed?

It's not just me anymore.

I didn't want to write these thoughts out, because of a pervasive dread that I might somehow bring on the very things I am scared to think about. trying to suppress these thoughts, I think I have let them grow stronger in the shadows. Like everything else I am afraid to face.

I haven't wanted to write here lately until I felt like I could give a full narrative shape to my feelings—a beginning, middle, and end. And I can't yet. But I needed to write it down, and make myself see it.

Recently, I read the “Gift of Fear”, and the author reminded me of something I have always known, but perhaps needed to hear again. Nonstop anxiety actually makes us LESS capable of seeing a true threat.

So I went out with Madam. Tense, a little shaky, but outside.

I just want to feel like I can protect her. I just want to feel safe again.

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