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Matilda

Happy Thirteen

 

 

Dear Matilda,

Tomorrow you turn 13.

Maybe this isn’t a big age. Maybe it is? Maybe if we lived 150 years ago, you would be leaving us to join another family, to be given to them as a means of labor and inheritance. Maybe, in some other culture or time or place, there is some fanciful or brutal ritual you would have to embark upon or endure, but I am betting none of those rituals would be particularly kind to girls, given human history surfing the old patriarchal wave in the last millenia.

So instead, I will tell you some things I’ve learned in our years together.

  1. You are your own being. Your own project. Right now things are connecting and swirling and breaking apart inside your brain and I can’t see any of it. This thrills me more than any thing I could imagine for you.
  2. You have the best giggle. I love the friends you bring over who make you giggle. Your father and I automatically love people who come over to hang out with you and cause you to bust up laughing in the other room. They are always welcome.
  3. Every time you learn something new – about the universe, or some practical skill, or about how good or shitty humanity can be – I’m beside myself with happiness. I feel completely in my power as a parent, even if I didn’t teach you the things, because I know you’re learning and you have to keep doing that if you’re going to flourish and survive, both.
  4. I am so glad I made you with your father. I love all the parts of you that are like him.
  5. There is only one of you. This is because I’m not made to be a mother to many. I’m not a Baby Whisperer, not a nurturer, not a human breast who spills out kindness and affection indiscriminately. Nor am I one built for the great physical sacrifice of pregnancy and newborn-rearing. I would never give back those experiences though. They showed me how hard it is to make a life and prepared me for so much that came after you were born, and probably more that is to come. I sometimes feel great sorrow that I couldn’t give you a sibling; I think you would have been a good sister. But there is only one of you. So I tell myself, the lizard mother part that needs her sleep and her quiet and her solitude and who veers toward grouchiness, that this makes you more precious to me than you already are. If it weren’t for you and your father, I might be a person who closes the door on the wide beautiful world.
  6. I don’t really care what you do when you are grown as long as you are going toward what makes you feel alive. That doesn’t mean I want you to “be happy.” Happy is a place we get to visit here and there. To grade a person down on whether they are “happy” is to overlook a lot of life’s beauty.
  7. I love how you sing in the shower. I love how you take showers that last for a million years. I love how you put on make-up and try on new outfits and I love when you’re a slothful slob who can’t be bothered.
  8. You are very good at making friends and loving them generously. That’ll come in handy your whole life.
  9. I think you and I should take a trip together. Let’s come up with a plan for that, okay?
  10. I love that you are taller than me. I love all the colors of your hair. I love your sideways smile, I love your grouchiness in the morning, I love how you use lovey babytalk to the dog, I love how long your fingernails grow and how beautiful your eyes are and how breathless your story-telling is, and has been since you learned how to write: your prose is fleet-footed and so funny. I love that you love your record player and hate the music I love and how you cook dinner for your father and I. I love eating a bowl of noodles you made and I love how earnest your texts are and I love whoever is yet to come in our lives that you will love and that will love you back.

Thank you for being my daughter. Happy birthday.

Love, Mom

 

 

 

Life In Paris

 

800px-Lesdeuxmagots

NOTE: I wrote this a few years ago, when Matilda was younger and before I published any books. Because clearly, publishing books makes you the High Priestess of Regal Glamour.

Whenever I get upset with myself, the hurrying-around doing dull errands, the mess in the house, the slopped-together meals of cereal on the couch, the ugly clothes I wear constantly, I beat myself with a stick I like to call “Life In Paris.”

Let’s apply this concept.

Last week, we went out to eat at Ember’s. My daughter Matilda wanted pancakes and my husband and I were too tired/lazy to make them at home. (Also, she wanted bacon and we had no bacon.) After we ate our crappy meal at Ember’s, which was actually quite delicious, we went home and I put on a pair of clean pajama pants and went to bed in the shirt I wore today.

When I woke up, I put on a bra under my shirt I had slept in and replaced the pajama pants with the jeans I’d wore the previous day. I splashed water on my face and brushed my teeth. Then I hustled Matilda through dressing and breakfast (whole wheat English muffin with rhubarb-strawberry jam and a shot of blueberry juice). Then I dumped her and the rest of the kids on our block at school and burned rubber over to the grocery, wearing no make-up, forgetting the reusable bags, to return milk bottles* and get more milk for my coffee.

Now, what’s wrong with all of that, you say? I’ve had that morning often myself, you think.

Enter the Life In Paris. If I were having my Life in Paris, I would not take my child to Ember’s to eat pancakes. In Paris, we have crepes, which I make with total and complete magnanimity, as I’m a Parisian woman! Just as it’s in my nature to fuck an older, uglier man who is shorter than me, so is making crepes without breaking a sweat.

In Paris, I would not leave the house wearing a shirt that’s been recycled continuously in three different instances. I would not leave the house without styling my hair or wearing make-up.** I would not wear junky, flat-bottomed snow boots and ill-fitting, thrice-worn denim.

Furthermore, in Paris I would not drive to some ugly, all-purpose grocery store where the food is bland and indistinct and the counter man in the meat department has no more expertise in meat than the $7 bucks-an-hour cashier. No, in Paris, I would market at individual shops that offered premium food know-how – fromagerie, patisserie, charcuterie, boulangerie – and after learning about the provenance of my purchases, I would put on my Chanel sunglasses, exit the store and clack down cobblestone streets in heels. My feet would not blister or ache. I would buy fruits from a vendor every day. I would buy my paper from a gnarled old man in a newstand and peruse it while I nibbled on a pan au chocolat. Because there’s no way I would not have coffee at home with a plastic coffee maker.

Non, belles amies! I would be having cafe au lait in a charming bistro before I went to work at my glamourous job at a publishing house. I would be wearing a frilly silk blouse with lots of lovely necklaces. I would have jewelry custom-made that didn’t come from a thrift store. And of course, I wouldn’t be fat. My bra and panties would match. My daughter would toddle off to school on a bus – such lovely public transport! – and I would meet her at home for a lunch of dressed greens and roast duck.

Isn’t Life in Paris is beautiful? Life in Paris doesn’t involve scraping one’s windshield, or picking up dog shit with a shovel in the backyard. Life in Paris features shoes with smart heels, and clothing made of silk and wool. No synthetics allowed in Paris! Life in Paris doesn’t include a trip to the health club to stand on a machine for a requisite 45 minutes to remove flab. In Paris, we flutter over long, picturesque sidewalks, holding our berets to our heads, as we jet to meet our lovers in bistros in the rain! This type of exercise isn’t labeled such. It doesn’t exert, you see. Besides, should your body have the audacity to store adipose, which I don’t believe is actually possible within the 16th arrondissement, such tasteless flab would be run out on a rail by a mob holding stalks of artichokes.

Why I let this stick abuse me so, I don’t know. I went to France on my honeymoon, with a phrasebook and not much else. So it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t like France very much at all. We drove from north to south, in a rented car, going down the autoroute at high speeds only to be stalled out by our lack of language skills in small towns. Adrian found the whole place in need of some spackle.

“It’s like they rebuilt everything that got destroyed in World War II,” he said, as we drove through a cloverleaf in some small town with too many vowels and x’s in the name. “But they only rebuilt it once.”

In France, I could mimic my phrasebook and get a response that sounded like someone sucking on marshmallows. About all the French I have left from that puny guidebook has been used in this essay. All of this left me feeling like France is some club I can’t be a member of – is that what life is all about? About letting junior-high notions of exclusivity ruin your day? I can’t help it that I’m provincial and my province doesn’t have lavender fields or couture houses. We have a local foodshed, but only for 5 months of the year. The rest of the time, life here is slogging through snow muck up to one’s ankles or dragging a large plastic garbage bin to the curb at 9:30 at night or picking around superstores with an oversize shopping cart or watching pay-per-view movies versus hoofing it to the art cinema. Anais Nin couldn’t land in my life and grab the reins. There are not enough satin lampshades or casks of wine in the cellar or opportunities to watch burlesque shows.

Maybe I just need a Life In Akron, Ohio stick? Maybe I don’t need a stick at all?


 

*Back then I used to buy milk in reuseable bottles but our grocery doesn’t carry that brand anymore. Of course it doesn’t.

**I don’t do this anymore. I put on make-up because I’m a vain motherfucking 40-year-old.

 

 

 

In Between Days

 

Figure 1. Exactly.

Figure 1. Exactly.

 

Here we are poised on the ragged end of summer. I’m caught between routine and leisure.

There’s too much on my mind. I have been sick for several days but I’m feeling on the mend.

Still, I can’t do anything but read.

(And write smutty fan fiction. For some reason, I expel a whole bunch of that stuff prior to doing the Published Writing. Clearing the pipes.)


 

Figure 4. Pablo and Gonzo cuddle time.

Figure 2. Pablo and Gonzo cuddle time.

 

My dog is a champion cuddler. I was told this morning that I am not a champion cuddler.

“You lay next to me and read, but you don’t cuddle,” said Matilda.

“I’m the best cuddler in this whole family,” said Adrian.

“Did you know that the name ‘Pablo’ is actually Spanish for ‘excellent cuddler?'” asked Pablo.


 

fresh desk

Figure 3. What my desk looks like when I clean it quarterly.

 

My office is getting new windows. This means violence is being done to my bookshelves and desk. No access allowed to that room. Probably I should have picked out a clean outfit today?

I wonder if the vintage table cloths we currently use as curtains will still cover the new windows?

My office is not an exciting place. I might buy a couch for it once the dumbass remodeling is finished.*


 

Figure 4. Heh.

Figure 4. Heh.

 

One thing I like about reading fan fiction is how baldly it can show the writer’s fantasies. I also don’t like it for that reason, especially when I read things that sound like they’ve been produced by some kind of software designed to sound “sexy.” That makes me feel sad for the person; that they’ve not developed their own erotic glossary, so to speak. That the images they’ve decided signal ‘sexy’ are stock images and worn metaphors.

Silky, throbbing, shuddering, dewy… etc.

Come on, man. Don’t let others speak for you!

There are specific things you learn about a person when you have sex with them. They are not usually sexual or erotic. That was one of the main draws about sex for me back when I was a youth. I just wanted to SEE what the guy would DO. What he’d look like. What would HAPPEN if I did x or y. A kind of curiosity that hasn’t left me, even though I’m married and monogamous and boring.


 

Figure 5. My kid, Matilda. Sorry you have to go to Gross Middle School, honey

Figure 5. My kid, Matilda. Sorry you have to go to Gross Middle School, honey

 

My daughter had middle school orientation yesterday. Her middle school smelled like floor cleaner and onions. The onions part is from body odor, I’m quite certain.

Middle school is populated with lots of kids who don’t realize they should now start bathing with more frequency.

I think all middle school building signs should say: “Welcome to _____________ Middle School: No One Wants To Be Here, So Let’s Just Get This Over With.”

The nice thing about her middle school, though? It still has a library. And a librarian. And there were some really good books on the shelves. More than I can say for her goddamn elementary school.

*sighs for 15 minutes*


Figure 6. Oh, thanks, Norman.

Figure 6. Oh, thanks, Norman.

 

Next Wednesday, I turn 40.

It doesn’t feel that old. Yet: you are OLD when you are 40. But I wrote this when I turned 37 and it still is true.

I keep waiting to transform into someone grown-up and responsible.

I keep waiting to, like, somehow need religion.

I keep waiting to become this person who is demure and discreet and appropriate.

But I’m 40 and that’s not happening. So I guess now I just say, what?

Fuck It All

Stop telling me what’s what, World

I’m half-way to death so give up on me becoming Proper already

I’m having Devil’s Food cake with coconut pecan frosting for my birthday. Later, once this dumbass remodeling** is done, I’m taking Adrian to Italy for a week to celebrate my oldness.

 

 

 

 

 

*This dumbass remodeling is scheduled to be finished exactly never.
**I know. I KNOW.

On Housewifery

 

Figure 1. Probably the only tub I'd happily scrub.

Figure 1. Probably the only tub I’d happily scrub. But he’d have to stay in it while I was doing so, mind.

 

I am not a good cook. I am not a good housekeeper. I don’t decorate well. I don’t care if things are dirty.

I have house-pride but not enough to actually act on it.

I like good food but I find recipes onerous and don’t understand basic science necessary for improvisational cooking.

I don’t really cook; I heat things up and put them on plates. I can bake things. Kinda. Mostly when I bake things, it’s because I’m premenstrual and want some sugar, though. It’s not about feeding others. Not really.

But every so often, I feel this intense need to do home-keeping jobs. I feel like the neglect I’ve had for my husband and daughter in favor of my fake people means that I don’t love them and I feel this deep pull to care for them, when they are not around, by folding their laundry and ironing their dress shirts and going to the grocery store and wiping out the sinks.

I want to have dinner on the table when my husband gets home.  I want to have the sofa arranged with folded throw blankets and appropriately spaced pillows. I want to light a candle that smells good. I want to have my family marvel at how I scrubbed – with my hands and a spray bottle of bleach – our bathroom tile.

This kind of work is how I want to say that I love them. Tell them how much their comfort and care means to me. How much I want this space we share to be easy to move through. And pretty. And clean. And have everything they might need.

This is hard, lately, because our house is still is remodeling disaster. We live out of two rooms, smashed together precariously with all our stuff in weird locations, hanging from nails, haphazard in piles and baskets and bins.

This is hard, because I want to teach my daughter how to run a home system. How to fold and iron and sort. How to measure out detergent. How to make grocery lists and plan for packed lunches and find good spots for all of the things we use regularly or need to keep track of: scissors, tape, fingernail clippers, bills, pencil sharpeners, magazines, tin foil, twist-ties. When I do it all by myself, when she’s not around, there is no chance of showing her how this is done.

This is hard, too, because I know that I’m not just showing them love. I’m rinsing and sorting and sweeping my way through the problems of my fake people as well. I’m showing them love, too.

We all have to live in this house of mine, somehow. SIGH.

 

 

WANT

 

Figure 1. I AM HYPMOTIIIIIIIZED YOU GUYS

Figure 1. I AM HYPMOTIIIIIIIZED YOU GUYS

 

Because I am an animal, here is a list of all the THINGS I WANT (OR WANT TO DO):

1) Soap & Glory’s BUTTER YOURSELF body cream. A giant tub of it, please.

2) This for dinner.

3) To go see Lone Survivor, American Hustle & Dallas Buyers Club.

4) For everyone to leave my house so I can watch Moscow Chill in peace without people giving me shit about The Reedus.

5) A pallet of Bourbon Nib Brittle from Olive & Sinclair.

6) For it to stop being so fucking cold already. We get the goddamn point, Weather. You’re a badass. Message received.

7) To make these cookies with Matilda.

8) A day in bed with Pablo spent reading. Got lots of juicy stuff on deck to read, yall.

9) To get the mister alone for one damn minute so we can talk shop. And maybe make out. He’s been surfing my last nerve all week. The only remedy for that is to get easy, I feel. Sorry if that’s gross. But we’re married. We’ve been married for 14 years. What the hell do you get married for if not for access to The Sex? I mean, really.

10) For someone else to return my corduroys that didn’t fit to The Gap.

11) Some magical fairy godmother to arrive and put away all my clean clothes, even though they won’t fit into the closet and dresser I have at the moment. While the fairy godmother’s at it, she can finish remodeling my goddamn house, too. THIS SHIT IS GETTING SO OLD I’M TELLING YOU WHAT.

12) Twenty-five, maybe thirty solid minutes alone with Jonny Lee Miller, in which we’d discuss all of my running hang-ups and pitfalls while I admire his shoulder blades.