Missing autumn

October was a nutty month. For all but five days, JK and I were either hosting out-of-town company, or one or both of us were out of town ourselves. Add to that two weeks of being pathetically, disgustingly sick, a dog with a sprained ankle, a cat that tried her best to run away, a crippling addiction to online presidential news, and a garden in need of putting up for the winter.

Somewhere in the middle of all of that, I blinked. And I missed fall.

During the past couple of weeks, the situation outside has transitioned decidedly, from cool and crisp with crunchy leaves under foot, to downright cold. Scarf weather. Last weekend I broke out the mittens. A week ago, the forecast called for snow, and Mother Nature delivered. I glanced out the window in the middle of a writing workshop and gasped, surprised by the thick clumps of snow lazily drifting through the tree branches.

This didn't bode well. I need fall. With the cool mornings and the first hint of that fireplace smell and the newness of long sleeves, I've come to associate a kind of birth, a delicate beginning, cemented back in the days when September meant the start of a new school year. Fall means renewal, clean slates, looking forward. The prospect of missing out on this--of moving from the lazy, hot summer to the hibernation of winter without time to dwell in the in-between--left me feeling a bit upside down and out of sorts. Like showing up for class for the first time, just to realize the semester's over.

Until today.

"What's the temperature outside?" JK asked this morning. It's his typical refrain, starting around the end of September and lasting through May. Yesterday was rainy, gray; the week before, cold and dismal.

I logged onto the Weather Channel. Once again, and in the most literal sense, I blinked.

"Seventy-two!" I shouted back, a little too eagerly.

Sunny, breezy, 72 at the peak of mid-day. Outside, the wind blew through the trees, still adorned with bright yellow leaves. "This won't last long," JK cautioned. I didn't care. For one day, in what the calendar suddenly called November (when did that happen??), early fall was upon us.

The dog and I walked around the neighborhood. We took the scenic route. We drove to the store with the windows down. We meandered.

In our daily lives, we all need space to meander. Every now and then, we should afford ourselves a left turn when the map says turn right, just to see where it'll take us. We need to follow our instincts and our hunches, not just our to-do lists. We need time to wonder.

These are the things I've been missing lately. But today gave me sweet reprieve. And as the day fades into evening, shedding minutes by the, well, minute, I have reason not to mourn my evanescent second chance. Because tomorrow's high is 73.

Dusting off

Look at all this dust.

One of the nifty features of Blogspot (and other blog hosts) is that you can write part of a post, then save it to finish later. Once, in the distant past, this feature came in handy. I started a post in the morning, finished it in the afternoon, then proofed it one last time in the evening before publishing.

But, over the past two months, things have turned ugly, and what once was my efficient friend has morphed into my blogging downfall.

I start. I type. I peter. Then I hit the "save" button, never to return. And so Rage Is Good sits forlorn, covered in virtual cobwebs.

Part exhaustion, part distraction, part ennui--these have been my enemies all autumn. I am too busy with things that don't seem to matter; an hour doesn't go by without me obsessively checking Politico, DailyKos and the New York Times; I suddenly lack the head space for coherent, sustained thought--it's as if my thought processes have begun to mimic the rapid click-and-scan of web surfing. The minute my brain alights on an insight or idea, it's off and running to the next. I start writing something, silly or profound or somewhere in between, and by the third paragraph I'm bored, fighting off the urge to open a new tab and see what's hoppin' over on Slate.

A friend of mine, whose writing inspires me with its insight and wisdom, recently published a post on her blog about the need to mentally de-clutter. I know I am not the only person who succumbs to occasional bouts of restlessness, nor am I alone in spending the bulk of my waking hours pouring over the latest poll numbers and the endless (and endlessly repetitive) commentary they inspire. But my friend's story--unrelated to political obsessions, yet familiar all the same--eased my worry that this state of distraction might be permanent.

Thank goodness the election is almost over. Thank goodness the season is changing. Thank goodness for other people who so willingly lay bare their own tribulations.


I lied.

I allowed myself one, tiny peek at email tonight and there found a message from a Republican relative describing all the ways she loves Sarah Palin. And so crumbled my resolve to shirk all political news and views for the weekend.

As Palin, in her speech Wednesday, gave no mention of women's rights, the one line I found personally most offensive was the strange zinger about Obama being a community organizer. Looking online tonight, I was ecstatic to see the growing backlash against what had started to become a theme on right-wing radio. Like this short essay by Jim Wallis. And even this story in the mainstream press.

But my favorite was the selection of T-shirts like this one that hit Internet shelves almost immediately after Palin uttered those unfortunate words. If I still lived in the south, I would actually wear one.

(A note to email readers: You may or may not be able to see the links embedded in this post. If not, go to www.rageisgood.blogspot.com and it'll make more sense.) :-)



Just to say. I'm sitting by the window, before sunrise, wrapped in the heaviest wool sweater I own (smartly saved from winter-clothes storage). Outside it smells like fireplace. The dog and cat have started sleeping with their bodies smacked up against us, so as to siphon off our body heat.

Over the next 10 days, we'll be lucky when our high cracks 70. Where my brother lives, several states south of us, the temperature right now, in the early morning, is 81. They'll see 104 degrees before the day is done.

Yesterday it rained on my way to work, and the roads were sloshy with water that hadn't yet seeped into the ground. For the first time in four months, another kind of precipitation came to mind. Driving in snow still terrifies the Texan in me.

I keep telling myself we have a while yet before we'll need to worry about that. Last year, autumn barely managed to slip through the small crack between the end of our hotter-than-usual summer and the Thanksgiving snowstorm that marked the start of our sudden, severe winter. We tried to go apple-picking exactly once (they didn't let you actually pick from the trees, though), but it happened to be tank-top weather that day. Otherwise, my favorite season snuffed itself out without much fanfare.

I can easily let go of the hot summer days. But this year I'm determined to relish this in-between, orange-tree'd, wool-sock weather. This year, we have good cause--sort of an autumn alarm clock, in the form of our vegetable garden. You can't accidentally miss the fall with a dozen pumpkins bulging on the vines, or rows of a last-minute, fall crop of greens anxious to be eaten, or earth to ready for its winter hibernation.



We just finished watching the creepy, Republican chest-thumping for a second night in a row, which involved a lot of cringing and disbelief and feels like it should qualify us for some kind of award.

We watched as the people jumped to their feet and clapped like maniacs and broke out into pseudo-impromptu (and disturbing) chants of "USA! USA!" and "Drill, baby, drill!" Yet again, I realized I really, really didn't get these people. When McCain mischaracterized Obama's health care plan (if only it were so liberal!) and supposed opposition to off-shore drilling (if only he were so smart), I shouted at the screen, despite JK reminding me that no one there could hear me. But I clapped hard for the protesters.

I don't know whether to take heart in the fact that conservatives shake their heads with the same degree of disbelief when they encounter large groups of Democrats. I only wish the Democratic ticket were as radically left as McCain's new pal Palin is radically right. Republicans already characterize Democrats as a bunch of hippie leftists, so why not actually BE hippie leftists? If they're going to label what Democrats want as single-payer health care, why not actually support single-payer health care?

That's the biggest sting for me--the Democratic leaders who the GOP accuse of being so far to the left are, in reality, in the dead center of the page.

Thank goodness JK's parents are coming to town tomorrow. I'm giving myself a three-day reprieve from Googling "Sarah Palin" or "RNC arrests" every 10 minutes. Also, I'm so glad we don't live in Alabama right now. I think I might implode.

Last night (or, Why Are Those People So ANGRY?)

JK and I gathered around our computer monitor last night to watch the streaming video of the Republican convention. Three things that struck me:

1. The way the crowd failed to clap for Abel Maldonado, a California state senator, son of a migrant worker, and one of the very few Latinos who've spoken at the convention so far. At the end of his six-minute talk, Maldonado raised a fist in the air and shouted into the microphone, "Que viva the immigrant story! Que viva immigrants like my father! Que viva John McCain!"

These obviously were meant to be applause lines, and in between each one, Maldonado paused for audience response. But the crowd sat there silently and looked to be squirming uncomfortably in their chairs. It wasn't until Maldonado, with his fist frozen in the air, finally ended with, "God Bless America," that the audience started clapping.

If you're going to the trouble of trotting out a handful of People Who Are Not White to prove that you aren't The Party Of Scared, Racist White People, at least go through the motions of pretending like you give a damn when they take the stage. Either the crowd was unhappy with so much praise for immigrants (this is the party that wanted to make it illegal for undocumented immigrants to bring their kids to the emergency room), or their English-Only brains were befuddled by all that Spanish talk.

Either way, they came off looking like the kind of people who like "diversity" as long as it doesn't move in next door or try to date their daughter.

2. The strange lampooning of community organizing. I was really glad to see the people at Daily Kos started talking about this almost before Sarah Palin left the stage. At least three speakers, including Palin, ridiculed community organizing and made it sound about as challenging as playing with a declawed kitten, apparently in an effort to paint Obama as the radical black man who worked with (gasp and shudder!) poor black people.

I've worked with community organizers in Texas, D.C., and Maine. It's not all games and street fairs. It's long hours and low pay and requires a deep commitment to actually making the world a slightly better, more equitable place. Unfortunately for Republicans, it often means talking with poor people about social issues and registering people of color to vote--two things the Republican Party probably would like to outlaw.

3. The bloodthirsty anger. When Rudy Giuliani whipped the crowd into a frenzy, chanting, "Drill, baby, drill!", I thought to myself, "These people could be convinced to kill their own mothers." There was so much anger in that room. Strange, desperate anger. Their guy's been in the White House for eight years. In that time, the country's been jerked even farther to the right. What do they have to be so angry about?

I wonder whether it's part of their strategy to appear so publicly nasty, or if it's just part of who they are.



I'm watching the Democratic convention right now (thanks to msnbc's streaming video). When Melissa Etheridge came onstage, I thought, "great! some hippie-rock to temporarily save us from another speech!"

But then she started singing "Born in the USA."


Is this a way to appeal to two bases at the same time, the more conservative folk who think Obama's just a little too "foreign" and the more progressive folk who worry he's too centrist, by using a lesbian folk-rocker to sing a middle-America anthem?

It rubbed me the wrong way. And all the delegates, holding hands and swaying back and forth while singing along, just looked ridiculous.


After dark

April 2008

The dog hadn't been on a walk in days. The forecast predicted rain later in the week, and he looked really pathetic, the way dogs do when they're particularly adept at human mind control.

So I grabbed his leash and pulled a fleece over my T-shirt. The sun had set and the moon shone like a big, white fingerprint against the dark blue sky. I could hear the waves crashing against the lake shore two blocks away.

C'mon, I said to the dog. We trotted down the front steps to the sidewalk below and headed, like always, toward the water. But I paused at the corner. Left or right? After dark, which would feel safer?

Two weeks earlier, a 21-year-old college student was stabbed to death in her downtown apartment in the middle of the day. A couple of months before that and a few blocks away, a 31-year-old man was stabbed to death inside his home on his lunch hour.

Yet, in the wake of these mid-day crimes, both of which were still unsolved, I felt most on edge when the sun went down.

We decided to turn left, cutting past the park, heading deep into the neighborhood toward the towering old homes that overlooked the water. The streets were narrower there. Our part of the neighborhood, one block off the main road and on a major bus route, has more foot traffic and cars, and there's no telling who you'll see or where they'll be going. But here, the only people on the sidewalk were people like me, neighborhood folk walking their dogs.

Every morning, JK walks by the murdered woman's apartment on his way from the bus stop to his office. Hers was one of two apartments in a big, old house.

Horrendous, gut-wrenching crimes that challenge the goodness of humanity happen every day. I am insulated from this, and for that I feel a mixture of guilt and gratitude and a desire to spread the privilege of living an existence relatively free from harm. News of genocide and domestic violence and police brutality give me intellectual and emotional pause. But they don't literally stop me in my tracks, not like two unsolved, seemingly random, rather brutal murders a mile or so away.

And so I walked down the sidewalk, by now a good six or seven blocks from my house, alert to every sound. A couple of houses ahead of me, a woman stepped outside into her small yard, with one dog in her arms and another running at her feet. Go on now, she told them, plopping the one dog in the grass. Then she looked up in my direction, quickly bent to scoop up both dogs, and hurried back inside.

I'm not that scary, I thought. Then I realized I was wearing a cap over a pony tail. Maybe she thinks I'm a man. As I passed her house, I saw her through the window in the door, an anxious face framed and backlit and peering toward the street. A few houses later, I glanced over my shoulder. The woman and her dogs had come back outside.

We all assumed the murderers--or murderer, if the two killings were related--were men. This reminded me of a conversation I'd had, just a few days before the young woman was killed. We were at a going-away dinner for a friend who was moving across the country. She had just returned from a six-week trip across Costa Rica and Mexico. Another friend at the table had traveled across India and Guatemala. They were swapping travel stories.

Specifically, they were swapping stories of traveling alone, in foreign countries, as women. And in the talking, what emerged was the fact that their biggest measure of feeling "safe" was how free they had felt from sexual harm. They weren't worried about pick-pockets or getting their traveler's check stolen or accidentally stepping into the cross hairs of other people's crimes. They were worried, most of all, about the predatory behaviors of men, directed at them because they were women.

We have to worry about this in our own country.

But it's just one more reminder that when we, collectively, consider issues of safety and harm and violence and the perpetration of Very Bad Things, we're mostly talking about the actions of men. And yet we still let them run the world. We assume they are the better, more natural leaders, the gender best equipped to make wise, respectable decisions. While, at the same time, half the population has good reason to live in fear of them. And I don't get that.

I was thinking about all of this as the dog and I made our way down to the water line. The waves crashed against the rocks, and the water was an endless, ominous blue. A couple of months ago the lake was still frozen, and from this very spot, the dog and JK and I could run out over the ice, all the way to the center and back. Kids built snowpeople in the middle of the lake. The snowpeople became a totem, proof to me that the ice would hold and we wouldn't fall through.

Tonight, the waves erupted, angry and foaming. I could smell the fish and the water and the sand, and even amidst those comforting smells, the angry water felt like an omen.

Finally, we turned around and started for home. A figure appeared on the sidewalk about a block ahead of us. As we grew closer, I could tell he didn't have a leash in his hand or a dog at his feet. But he was holding something long and shiny that glinted in the street light. It was probably a garden hose or a hub cap. But I tugged on the dog's leash and made a hard right, taking a detour, walking as fast as I could until we reached the end of our own block, where we finally slowed down.

According to the newspaper reports and the people we know who live and work downtown and have attended the emergency neighborhood meetings, both murders for a long time seemed to have few leads. Even though the person who killed the young woman broke into her locked apartment before stabbing her, the police are encouraging people to be vigilant about locking their doors.

We only locked our door when we remembered, which wasn't often. I guess it's a Southern thing, I told a friend here. I don't want this to change our routine, JK said, sounding a little defensive when I mentioned we should keep the doors locked at all times. I get that. I don't believe in unnecessary fear, even if I sometimes succumb to it.

But still, every night for the past two weeks, I made sure to lock the door. And I stood at the window, gazing out into the darkness with a guarded look on my face, wondering who was out there.



All the signs point in the same direction. "Dark times," my brother called it. "The end of civilization as we know it," JK said.

The rising gas prices, the salmonella-flavored tomatoes, the roller coaster of a stock market, the global rice shortage, the global banana shortage, the torrential floods, the crazy-eyed look of desperation on the faces of people who'd rather numb themselves on Survivor re-runs so they can pretend they don't hear that whistling sound as the wind rustles the fraying edges of the tattered fabric that has become our country.

And now this.

I spent an hour at the grocery store this afternoon. Let's leave aside the fact that today was maybe the third or fourth day since last September that one could actually call "hot," what with the strange weather we've been having here, with record amounts of snow, rain and cold. And let's leave aside the fact that the vast majority of my fellow shoppers dejectedly shuffled behind carts filled more than usual with foodstuffs like canned meat and cellophane-wrapped hydrogenated sugar (i.e. cheap stuff that isn't rice or bananas or tomatoes).

Let me dwell on this. Today was the third grocery trip in a row when I couldn't find a basic staple on my list because the store was out of stock. I mean truly basic things, like fruits and vegetables. The time has come when Americans (gasp, shock) can go to our grocery stores and actually not find waiting neatly packaged on clearly labeled, evenly spaced shelves all the food a person could want, because, well, it seems we're on the cusp of joining the majority of the world which happens to be dealing with a food shortage, and has been in fits and starts for quite a long time (i.e. always).

I'm not complaining, necessarily (although I really really wanted that squash today). The U.S. food system sucks, for us as eaters and workers, for people in other countries, for small- and mid-scale farmers, and for the planet. So we go to the store for peaches and the store is out of peaches because the trucks couldn't come in last night because fuel is too expensive and the truckers are on strike, and by the way, so are the farmers in some other country whose name you can't pronounce correctly, so how about an apple instead? Oh wait. We're out of those, too.

So we come face to face with our privilege, which is fine by me. Even if it means I suddenly need to start learning 101 ways to cook chard and nettles, because we have a lot of those growing around here and a girl can probably stay pretty full as long as she uses enough olive oil.

We were at a dinner party the other day. Another guest, it turned out, routinely dines at restaurants that serve caviar. She didn't understand all the silly protest over foie gras. She lives near one of the Great Lakes yet didn't quite get the "big fuss" about water conservation. She appeared to believe that if a resource of any kind was in her sight, it was hers for the using. Which means she was American.

Which is, I realize, what really made me a little angry at the grocery store today. It wasn't the fact that they suddenly didn't have squash. It was that, instead of rushing to the streets or at least to the farmers' market, almost everyone I saw was elbowing each other out of the way to cram as much cheap, high-calorie "food" into their carts as they could. These weren't caviar people. But they had options beyond, "if it's in front of me, I'm taking it, consequences (to myself, to my children, to the economy, to the planet, to people who are even poorer than me) be damned."


"Pro-life is anti-woman"

In honor of George Carlin, r.i.p. My favorite part: "How come when it's us, it's an abortion, and when it's a chicken, it's an omelet? Are we so much better than chickens all of a sudden? ... When's the last chicken you heard about who came home and beat the shit out of his hen? Doesn't happen, because chickens are decent people."

(p.s. Lovely people who get this via email, you may need to scoot over to the Rage is Good blog to see the embedded video.)



We have, in our home, no fewer than 437 books, not including cookbooks, song books and poetry chapbooks, which would inch us pretty close to 500.

We have books crammed two-deep into bookshelves, lined neatly in cupboards, and stacked haphazardly on the surfaces of furniture in every room in our apartment.

Last weekend, Spring inspired us to join the collective airing and cleaning out of things, so as to breathe more easily with the windows open. Green buds suddenly and defiantly erupted into leaves all over our Midwestern town. We’d grown so accustomed to winter that we barely recognized the sound of songbirds.

JK and I looked around and determined to de-clutter. Away went the heaping basket of winter blankets, the drawerfuls of wool sweaters, and the synthetic-down coats suitable for hiking the tundra. We dusted and swept and sorted, until the sun turned afternoon-orange. We opened the windows and sipped iced tea through straws.

But something wasn't right.

An excess of 400 books isn't an excess at all for two people who'd rather read than sleep--plus, we're too broke for cable. But we live in an apartment slightly larger than a milk carton, and the books were taking over. They had settled down and started families. Book suburbs had sprung up in the bathroom, on the shelf below the toilet paper.

"I'll go through the books and figure out which ones to give away," JK offered.

"What are you talking about?" I said with dismay. "We can't give away books."

Giving away books with the intention of never seeing them again sounds as right and normal to me as deciding one day to give the dog to the neighbors. Since graduating from college, I have moved exactly 10 times, and each time the only thing I've insisted on carting with me were the increasing number of boxes labeled "Important -- BOOKS".

I’ve read most of them. Some I keep because I want to read them again (The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood; all seven volumes of Harry Potter). Some I keep because someday I’ll read them for the first time (like Alice Walker’s The Temple of My Familiar, or Don DeLillo’s Underworld). Many of them (the biography of Virginia Woolf; Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to Safety; Quilting by Lucille Clifton) I keep because having them nearby feels as important as oxygen.

I love them, but I don't hoard them -- I've pushed books into the hands of friends more times than I can count. "Here," I'll say. "You must take this. You'll love it."

But always the assumption is that eventually the books will find their way back. This doesn't happen when you push your books into the hands of the guy taking donations at the thrift store.

JK nodded sympathetically. He loves books almost as much as I do. He has been known to excitedly call me into the room, just to recite a sentence or two from whatever he's reading. "Isn't that beautiful," he'll say.

So we compromised: He would go through his own books, leaving mine off-limits.

But then I guess I got a little carried away with myself. This afternoon, after bagging the last of the clothes destined for the thrift store, I glanced towards the wall of books in the living room. I had an empty paper grocery bag in my hand. "What the hell," I said to the dog. "It wouldn't hurt to try."

What criteria do you use when deciding which pieces of yourself to discard? I like book people. Book people think of their books as repositories for pieces of their souls, or mirrors that shine truths, or vacationlands filled with solace and adventure. I like book people because they see books as the closest thing to living beings that inanimate objects can become.

And so I scoured the shelves rather fruitlessly. I might want to read this someday... If I ever decide to write a book about criminals, this book would come in handy... But what if I want to go to Alaska and need to read this first?

A few times, I mustered the nerve to think, Well, maybe I don’t need this one. From the couch, the dog watched me with soulful, reproving eyes.

Seven bookshelves and countless pained sighs later, I had marked six books for the give-away pile (one short-fiction anthology; one novel I never could finish; one nonfiction book about race relations that, 11 years later, felt pretty dated; two memoirs that never moved past just the facts to the emotional messiness of real life; and one coffee table book of shamefully cute kid-with-pet photographs).

Then, because I couldn't help myself and also mostly because of the guilt, I looked through the six books again, willing myself to change my mind.

Books add contour to the landscape of a life. They make a home feel warm and inviting, all the people in their pages waving hello, waiting to talk to you. Books diminish reasons to feel bored or lonely. Books rescue and fulfill. When I finish a good book, I sometimes need to mourn—finishing a particularly good book can feel like losing a particularly close friend.

But I didn't love these six books. So I stuffed them inside the give-away bags and ferried them to my car. The thrift store around the corner—from which I purchased at least one of these six cast-aways—happens to be well-known for its vast book selection. It's like the neighborhood Barnes and Noble, except without the espresso bar.

And so I realized the silver lining here was even bigger than the cloud: Someone, most likely, would find these books and be delighted.

"A ha!" they would say. "I must take this home. I will love it."


Talk to me

I must have an invisible sign taped to my forehead, or some code encrypted in my voice, that says, "Hey! If you want to talk about abortion, come talk to me!"

Some back story. A couple of weeks ago, I developed a weird, very painful sensation in my neck, near where I'd had a surgery several years ago. Being mildly obsessed with my own medical history, and also prone to worry, I called my old doctor many states away, who had presided over that surgery. I left a message. No one called back.

Until today. The phone rang. It was the doctor's nurse, returning my call. The pain disappeared a few days after it started, but I explained the situation anyway and asked a few questions. She said she'd consult with the doctor and call me back. Then, as we were saying goodbye, she said, "Where do you live now, by the way?"

"Madison, Wisconsin," I said.

She grew up in nearby Chicago. "I remember Wisconsin being a very free-thinking state," she said. I tried to ramble something about how yes, it's free-thinking, anything-goes, not Alabama, very refreshing, yadda yadda yadda.

But she kept talking.

"This was back in the 1970s," she said. "You know, there was a time before abortion was legal across the country. It was left up to each state, and some states had laws that outlawed abortion, and other states had laws making it legal."

"Mmhmm, I know," I said.

"But Wisconsin didn't have a law either way. And this was really important to a lot of the women I went to school with. We were college students then, and we talked to our mothers, and none of them had had access to laws that allowed them to control how many kids they had. And if you looked at how many children they thought they wanted before they started a family, and compared that to the actual number, you'd see a big difference."

I asked her whether the lack of a law in Wisconsin had made abortion either more or less available.

"What it did," she said, "was it made it less shameful. And it made the women who needed it feel less like it was the disgraceful thing to do. The state said, 'We're not going to make a statement about this.' So it wasn't political. It was just a fact. If a doctor wanted to provide abortions, they could; and if they didn't, they didn't."

I don't know anything about the history of abortion law in Wisconsin, but I thought this woman's take on things was really interesting. It really was unlike any other conversation I've had with a health care provider. Most fascinating of all was how close to the surface this was for her. I mention I live in Wisconsin, and she launches into a five-minute monologue on how Wisconsin's approach to reproductive laws affected her 30 years ago. She could have simply made a joke about cheese.

So I told her a little about the clinic in Alabama; and the women who called there all the time, asking whether abortion was actually legal; and the men who smoked cigarettes in the parking lot while their daughters went inside, who nodded at the volunteer escorts and told us things like, "I think this is wrong, but my kid's situation is different. She's not a welfare queen or a whore," expecting us to understand their point.

"I know," she said, "I know." I could almost hear her shaking her head. Then she said she'd call me back.



For people who read this online and not via email, can somebody tell me how long those weird "Alabama" and "Feminism on Trial" webrings have been on here? I just discovered them tonight. Maybe JK thought he'd play a bad joke, but I doubt it. I have no idea where they came from.

I deleted the code, problem solved. But seriously. If you ever see any creepy we-hate-women links here at Rage Is Good, lemme know. I doubt we've been infiltrated by the far-right (they have way bigger things to worry about), but I would be kinda sad if Rage got hijacked.

As my old friend Dr. J says, thank you for letting me share. And good night!


Ladies' Night

You know that feeling when you've encountered something that very well may be a Very Good Idea? Sort of hopeful and excited and buzzy? Yeah. That's me right now. Tentatively jazzed even, which doesn't happen easily.

I just got back from a brainstorming meeting of people interested in starting a women's theater in Madison. About 25 of us crowded into the meeting space at a local coffee shop. Most of the people in the room (not me) had fairly extensive theater backgrounds. Many had years of organizing and activism experience. All were artists in some way. One was a judge. And almost all of us, save three or four men, were women.

There were black women, lesbian women, straight women, butch women, old women, white women, young women, Wisconsin-born women and transplants. It was one of the more diverse groups I've been in since landing in Madison. And it felt SO GOOD to be in their midst, with so many different voices and experiences and backgrounds coalescing around one very cool idea.

This was the first meeting. The mood in the room was electric. Some of the women came from more traditional theater backgrounds and simply wanted a space to showcase their work. But most of the people there, it seemed to me, came to the meeting because they saw something that felt transformative. The organizer -- a woman I met through a writing group last fall -- shared with us the statistic that less than 20% of all plays staged in the U.S. by either professional or community theaters are directed or written by women.

I was in a couple of stage productions in high school and really got interested in technical theater for a while, but I was never serious about it. Then, in 2004, I saw a staging of The Laramie Project. I was in documentary journalism school at the time, and the play -- based on interviews with real people in Laramie, Wyoming, in the wake of Matthew Shepard's murder -- opened my eyes to the power and beauty of extrapolating the notion of "documentary" to the stage. It wasn't a new idea, but I hadn't seen anything like it before. And I thought, I could do this. But then I didn't. And now I can.

The thing I miss most about Alabama is the feeling of connection in those small groups of people working to change the system. The feminists and the LGBTQ community and the racial reconciliation workshops happening in living rooms. The urgency in those circles is something I hadn't found in Madison.

I had looked here for something like the reproductive justice work I did in Alabama -- the clinic defense and Christian Coalition protests. But so much of that work has been done in this town. The pro-choice leafleting at the farmer's market doesn't really cut it. But tonight I realized that by living for a few years in a place like Alabama, where activism happens so close to the quick and in the dirty trenches, I had forgotten that things like art and theater can be revolutionary. Some might say the only true art is revolutionary.

And so maybe I have found a circle where I can help push a transformative agenda and have fun at the same time. And maybe I'll get to learn how to work the light board. That would be cool, too.


Boob Toob

On Sunday, JK and I became quasi-Americans.

American, in that we broke down and bought a television.

Quasi, in that a) we got it used and on the cheap, and b) it's attached solely to the DVD player -- no cable, no rabbit ears, no Law & Order SVU.

It's my fault. If I hadn't been working late last Friday -- and, therefore, running late to fetch JK from his office -- this wouldn't have happened. Because JK wouldn't have had the time, twiddling his thumbs, waiting for me, to wander around Craigslist looking at the used television ads.

"Check this out," he emailed, with a link for an RCA SDTV TruFlat. "It's only 27 inches."

It looked so shiny in the picture.

And, it came with its very own TV stand, complete with a smoked-glass door for hiding stereo components and cords. I hate cords.

"It's pretty," I emailed back absent-mindedly. Those were the wrong two words. I should have said, "No way," or "Whatever, man," or, "Ha! Right."

The Great TV Debate started almost the minute we decided to combine our lives and possessions. I'd always said I never wanted a television to be the focal point of any room in my house. Especially not my living room, which is for lounging and talking and reading and drinking wine. Not brainlessly staring into the giant, gaping screen taking up half the wall.

My 13" Sony, which I'd owned for years, fit the bill perfectly.

Then JK came around. With, apparently, less than stellar eyesight and an aversion to watching action movies on a screen slightly bigger than a milk carton. The conversation usually went something like this: "I hate your TV." "I love my TV!" "You can't see anything on it." "I can see it fine! Maybe you need new glasses." "Arrrrrgh."

And so we compromised. Someday, we said, we'd live in a house big enough for a room dedicated solely to a giant television set, with a door I could shut so I could pretend it wasn't there.

The back of my car sports a bumper sticker that says, "Kill your TV". I suspect it's probably more offensive to the average American than the peace sign decal and the other bumper sticker next to it that says, "Well-behaved woman rarely make history." More than one person has raised an eyebrow and given me an odd look, to which I respond with defiance. Last year, before we'd finished unpacking boxes, we happily joined our local coffee shop in celebrating Turn Off Your TV Week.

But I had said, "It's pretty," the wrong two words, which inspired an email to the guy selling the RCA TruFlat. He emailed back. It was still available. And, he added, he'd give us a discount, since we'd have to drive 30 miles outside of town to get to his house.

It was sitting in the guy's garage when we arrived, plugged in, turned on, showing an Adam Sandler movie. In person it was shiny, too. And huge.

"Only 27 inches?" I whispered to JK, shooting him a narrow-eyed look. He gave me a sheepish, apologetic smile and shrugged.

An hour later, my small Sony looked forlorn, waiting in the corner to be dragged down to the basement. "I feel bad for it," I told JK as I handed him a speaker cord.

Later that afternoon, he called me into the room. "Look!" he said. He'd popped in a DVD of The Matrix Reloaded. It was beautiful. "Law & Order would look great on this," I said.

"For someone who hates televisions," JK told me, "you sure love to watch TV."

"Hmmph," I scowled. But he's right. I hate television sets the way some people hate drug dealers. I could flip through the channels until my mind turned to pudding. Law & Order all day long? The only thing that would make me happier is a room full of puppies. TV is like McDonald's French fries or chocolate martinis or Chapstick. A little just makes me think I need more.

JK hit play on the DVD remote.

"It's a beautiful Sunday afternoon," I protested. "Let's do this later! It's gorgeous outside! We could take the dog to the--"

The highway scene came on. A car blew up in slow motion. "What did you say?" JK asked.

I spoke without taking my eyes from the screen. "Close the windows. I'll make the popcorn."


Finish line (sort of)

Huh. Well. So much for the once-a-day thing. But we were close. We certainly had our hands full, what with the being out of town multiple times and the getting sick with something that kept us on the couch watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer on DVD. But at least we tried. (And, fingers crossed, we will be slightly more successful next time.) And I suppose that's okay.

In honor of the close of the Month o' Lists, a list of random thoughts...

1. I am purple, and Lysmank is green, at least that's what our lovely friend BMJ says. I've never tried to think of friends in color before, but if I did, I'd say BMJ is a smoky, cornflower blue, the color the sky turns right before dusk happens.

2. I don't think there's anything wrong with liking Dan Seals in the 5th grade. Not that I did. And not that I still remember all the lyrics to "They Rage On" and "Bop." And not that I resent being teased about this by the very music-loving-in-a-slightly-snobby-way JK. (Hmmph.)

3. Little green sprouts pushed their way up through the dirt yesterday, even though half the yard is still covered in snow. Our neighbor calls them ditch lilies because when they're grown, they'll be common, orange flowers that grow alongside the highways and are hard as nails to kill. But I don't care because, hello! Green things. Growing. In the ground. This is a sign of progress after 100 inches of snow (not that I'm talking about the weather again).

4. Things I have found frustrating this week: doctors who don't actually tell you anything, soy milk pancakes, the font Comic Sans.

5. Things I have found not frustrating this week: road trips, late-night card games, coffee beans brought back to me straight from their Costa Rican plantation.


Maxed Out

Go rent this. Ask that your local high school show it to all high school seniors. Send a copy to your senator and another to your presidential candidate of choice.



I suspect the dog may be wild. Not wild at heart, but really wild, a feral animal lurking just beneath the domesticated surface.

A few times a week, we drive up to a dog park that borders a lake on the north side of town. Most of the park is cleared -- muddy half the year, ice-packed the rest. But the slice of park that hugs the lake is wooded, with thick underbrush. Small trails, like tributaries, branch off the main walking path and cut deep into tangled branches.

I let him lead the way. He stays about 20 yards ahead but pauses every now and then to look back, watching me, making sure I'm following. We head down a narrow trail toward a frozen stream that feeds the lake. All along its edge, the ice has turned from opaque white to a blueish clear. If I stepped on it, it would break. But the dog, tracking some scent, runs safely out onto the ice, oblivious to the line between land and water.

Most of the people and the other dogs stay in the big, muddy center. We are alone. Something catches the dog's attention, and he bounds over a rise, toward the lake shore. He runs, nose to ground, pauses, looks up with ears perked, then runs again, not in a straight line, but weaving around like a bumblebee. This is the closest to real wilderness he'll see this month, away from our city apartment and cramped backyard. He could not be happier.

He ignores the other dogs in favor of sniffing and tracking and burrowing through the reeds. Part spaniel, part fox. JK likes to say this dog could never survive on his own, that if we dropped him off in the middle of a field, he'd get eaten by a hawk. But at the dog park, I think him less domesticated, more able to fend for himself in the wild.

He runs ahead and through some trees, and for a few moments, I lose sight of him. I can hear him, though, the sound of breaking twigs and the plod of his footfalls on the ice-encrusted snow. Then, I hear a crash, something breaking, the sound of cracking ice, and I walk a little faster, calling his name. There, in a small clearing, he stands chest-deep in a puddle that, until a few seconds ago, had been frozen over with a thin sheet of ice.

I shake my head. "You deserved that," I say. He just looks at me, wagging his tail, then takes off running.


Finding Darcy, Part Two

You can find the first half of this story here.

Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of a house on the edge of town, knocking on the door that ostensibly belonged to Darcy Benton's aunt. A woman in a white apron over a blue-and-white-checked blouse came to the door. She smiled when Sarah mentioned we were students. And even though she didn't invite us in, she did explain where we could find Darcy's mother.

"It's up around a bend and over the hill, kind of in the country," she warned us.

And so it was. Around the bend and over the hill, we shared a sigh of relief. There it was. A big, white farmhouse.

We knocked on the front door. "I think I hear a TV," Sarah said. But no one answered. So we peeked in a couple of windows. Nothing.

After loitering in the yard for several minutes, it was decided by unanimous vote (the dog didn't get a say) that we would drive up the road to the next house and inquire as to the Benton family's whereabouts.

"People in small towns know everything about their neighbors," I told Sarah. "They'll know what to do."

Up the road was an attractive, two-story house with a circular drive. After we rang the doorbell, movement in an upstairs window caught our eye. Framed in the open window was an older man in an undershirt, with wet hair and a towel around his neck. A woman standing behind him held a pair of shears.

"We'll be right down!" the man shouted almost merrily, as if getting his Sunday haircut interrupted by a couple of scraggly-looking strangers was exactly what he'd planned.

A minute later, the woman opened the door. Sarah gave her the spiel about being a student and looking for Darcy and wondering if by any chance this lovely woman happened to have any idea where her neighbors might be.

Just then, a car drove by on the road behind us.

The woman smiled. "That's them right there," she said. "But you better hurry. They're meeting us at the community picnic in half an hour."

Enter the car chase. After a hasty thank you, Sarah and I jumped into the Volkswagen and peeled after the Bentons, barreling down the two-lane at a pretty fast clip, slowing down only after we realized for certain they were pulling into their driveway.

Sarah parked the car along the roadside. As soon as the Bentons were inside, we headed for their door. A man answered.

"We're looking for Darcy Benton," Sarah began.

"Ah, then," said the man, "you need to talk to my wife."

He invited us to follow him. Here we were, in Darcy Benton's living room.

The man's wife – Darcy's mother – came in from the kitchen. Sure, she said, she'd be happy to tell us about Darcy. She showed us a few pictures. Darcy had never intended to do pageants, but a man who ran the pageant happened to see her – where, I forget now, but it was somewhere mundane, like a bowling alley or the mall – and he cajoled her into getting involved.

"She's not crazy about that sign at the edge of town still being there," Darcy's mom said.

Of course, Darcy didn't still live in Elwood. She lived in St. Louis, with her husband and kids. "Here," her mom said, "let me give you her cell number. I'm sure she wouldn't mind."

Before we left, they invited us to join them at the picnic. We could tell they meant it, too. If we didn't need to be to Indianapolis that night, we probably would have gone. ("That would make great tape," Sarah, the budding radio documentarian, said later.)

We headed toward Illinois brimming with ideas for how Sarah could turn this into a radio piece worthy of submitting at the conference. But by the time we made it to our eventual destination halfway across the country, time had run out. We never called Darcy. We didn't so much talk about her again until last week, when Darcy found us, after a Google search of her own name turned up this blog.

And so, in honor of finding Darcy, coupled with March, the Month of Lists, this is what I learned...
  • People are generally friendlier than we give them credit for.
  • There is something beautiful about a way of life where it's still okay to talk to strangers (and hand out your relatives' phone numbers).
  • It never hurts to ask.
  • Inspiration can come from anywhere—even from a 20-year-old billboard in the middle of an Iowan cornfield.
  • The journey is always more interesting than the getting there.


True 'nough

I will finish the Darcy saga, but first...

Me to JK, while discussing Larry Byrd during today's UNC basketball game: Wasn't Larry Byrd from Texas?

JK: Nope. Indiana.

Me: But didn't he play college ball in Texas?

JK: Ah, no. Indiana State.

Me: But didn't he play pro ball in Texas?

JK: Still no. Boston.

Me, looking puzzled: Huh. He had nothing at all to do with Texas?

JK, shaking head: Nothing at all.

Me, still puzzled: How come, when anything significant happens, I think it has something to do with Texas?

JK: That's easy. That just means you're a Texan.


Finding Darcy, Part One

And now for the finale.

We had planned to hit Elwood right after church let out. We figured we'd find a neighborhood diner with plenty of Buicks out front, mosey in, and ask the friendly woman behind the counter whether she could tell us where we might find Darcy Benton.

"They're going to wonder why we're asking," Sarah said. "We need a cover story."

"Simple," I said. "We tell them you're a student, and this is for a class project. People always want to help students. Always."

The problem, once we arrived in Elwood, is that Elwood doesn't have neighborhoods, much less neighborhood diners. Elwood doesn't have gas stations or grocery stores or bars. Elwood has a smattering of houses, a church, and what looked like an abandoned schoolhouse.

Plus, absolutely nobody was anywhere to be seen.

We parked in front of the church and tried the door. It was locked. Across the street, a dog barked at the sight of us. His owner came outside and gave us a curious look, just as we dashed back to the car.

"Let's go ask that guy," I said.

But Sarah looked skeptical. The magic seemed to be waning. Or maybe we were really hot and hungry and not looking forward to six more hours in an un-air-conditioned car.

"Your project, your choice," I told her.

Sarah turned on the ignition, threw the car in drive and swung back toward the highway.

Ten minutes later, at the intersection of some small highway and the larger highway that would take us to the Interstate, she banged her hand on the steering wheel. "We should go back – I need to learn how to do this."

And so we went back. The man with the dog was still in his yard, and this time a woman was with him. We parked the car on the street and walked towards the driveway. "Hello?" we called. The woman came around front.

"Hi, um, we're students? Doing a project? On, uh, beauty queens in Iowa? And we were wondering if you, ah, might know where we could find Darcy Benton," one of us said, without stopping to breathe.

The woman, wearing denim jean-shorts and permed hair, glanced at Sarah's red Volkswagen, its bumper covered in gay pride stickers, the windows rolled down and her dog's big head panting in our direction. Then she looked back at us. Without speaking. Not a great sign.

"Well," she finally said. "I don't know about Darcy. But her aunt lives over there." At this, she waved her hand in the air, motioning somewhere behind us.

She gave us directions, with the implicit promise that we would then leave. Ten minutes later, we were standing in front of a house on the edge of town, knocking on the door.


Darcy, revisited

Me, on Sarah's voice mail earlier today: "You'll never believe who emailed me this morning! Two words. Darcy Benton. Call me back."

Sarah, on my voice mail half an hour later: "I have Darcy Benton's phone number practically framed on my wall. Call me back."

We never found Darcy Benton last summer; but this morning, Darcy Benton found us.

The saga begins here and continues here.

Thing is, it didn't end the way we'd hoped. It actually felt highly anticlimactic at the time (although it did almost involve a car chase, except the car we were "chasing" wasn't trying to outrun us, as much as it was heading for its driveway), and so I never bothered to finish the story. Even though more than one of you asked to hear how it ended.

So I hope very late is better than never. Come back tomorrow, and all will be revealed... (!)



We are not moving.

For the past 11 months, I've salivated at the thought of moving -- not to a new town (we like this one just fine, thanks, and besides, it's still new and shiny and ridiculously, fabulously progressive, what with moving here from Alabama), or to a new state (we would miss the cheese and beer), but to a new apartment.

This one's fine, mind you. It meets our basic needs. It's even got nice little extras like hardwood floors and built-in bookcases. But it's oh-so-small. And kind of dumpy. And completely impossible to keep clean, considering the fact the walls are insulated with cobwebs and the basement is a breeding ground for god knows what.

When I am bored or in need of a quick procrastination fix, I wander over to the classifieds and devour the apartment listings. And last month, when we realized we'd soon need to give 30-days' notice, I started looking in earnest. But then.

Then we realized it made no sense to move. Any way you look at it. It just doesn't. We love our 'hood, and we're nonprofit-poor, and there's no way we're finding a pseudo-two-bedroom in the same zip code for close to the same price (did I mention the foundation's crumbling?).

And so I'm letting go of the daydream. Last night we devised a redecorating plan to squeeze some semblance of a dining area into the living room, so we don't spend the next year continuing to balance dinner plates on our laps. That's how low my standards have fallen. All I need is a table to eat at, and I'm happy.

But tonight, while walking the dog, we passed a couple of "for rent" signs.

"Should I take down the number?" I asked JK. "Just to cover our bases?"

I obviously am having a hard time letting go.

Last weekend we visited my brother and sister-in-law in Phoenix and stayed in their lovely, relatively expansive home that boasts not one, but two dining areas. My brother converted the third bedroom into a home movie theatre, complete with a projector, huge screen mounted to the wall, and two rows of movie theatre seats he found on Craigslist.

My radical-leaning sister-in-law lamented the fact that she didn't feel comfortable hosting CopWatch meetings or anarchist reading groups in their living room.

"I almost need to hide where I live," she said. "A home theatre is so not anti-establishment."

And so I find my silver lining. The feminist radio collective will feel right at home here. Of this, I am positive.



After returning from a three-day respite to the relatively hot weather of Arizona, I hereby place a moratorium on all weather-related waxing.

I won't complain that we still have many feet of snow on the ground almost halfway through March, nor will I lament the fact that I had to re-box all of the short-sleeve shirts I had unpacked for our trip south. I won't even mention the fact that the reports of more snow this week had me so wracked with disappointment earlier today that I almost accidentally drove my car into a ditch.

Because I'm getting tired of hearing my own self talk about the temperature. I'm tired of the anxious, depressed looks that cross the faces of shoppers when they see the bathing suits and sandals in the window displays of chain stores. I need to reclaim the me that sees this as one big, fun, ice-covered adventure.

Maybe the act of embracing our never-ending winter will increase my fortitude in the face of future adversity. Maybe it's a gift from the gods, allowing me a last-ditch chance to learn to snow-shoe. Maybe it will force me to fill my time reading things other than the updates from the National Weather Service, which, in turn, will make me a more interesting person at dinner parties. Maybe it means my out-of-town friends will stop secretly rolling their eyes whenever we talk on the phone.

Maybe. But if I talk about weather one more time before June, please, somebody start spamming me.


Not another list

I'm getting tired of such a literal interpretation of this month's theme and will my do best, for the sake of you lovely people, to vary things a bit.

But not tonight. Tonight I got home late from a long day of schlepping around airports, and sitting next to too-big men who take up all the arm rest, and getting confused by the hour-slow clock on the terminal tram. So, no freshly reinvented riff about lists for you today.

Good night!!


Resolutions for the next week

1. sleep
2. refrain from drinking excessive amounts of wine
3. go to bed before 2 a.m.
4. avoid fried things and cheese and any sauce for which a main ingredient is ranch dressing

That's it. Fun though it was, after this weekend my standards are pretty low.


Things I keep

Last Friday, I went with our upstairs neighbor to a Naked Lady Party.

Fifteen or so women gathered at one woman's house, with the husbands and children banished, carting large bags of unwanted clothes and shoes and household things. We spread them all over the living room and dining room, organizing them into categories (i.e., shoes by the window, pants on the love seat).

Then, after an hour or so of wine and food, someone shouted, "Swap!" Wine glasses and forks clattering to the table, we swarmed through the stacks of clothing, trying things on, examining ourselves in the full-length mirrors propped against the walls, and passing things that didn't fit to other people.

By the end of the night, we each had filled our bags with other people's unwanted things. Everything was free. The only rule was that you leave with about the same amount of stuff you brought with you. (It's the hostess's job to pack up all the leftovers and donate them to a local thrift store.)

Earlier that day, I was surveying my closet, deciding what to bring. And I thought about all the stuff I don't part with, all the stuff I keep and move from apartment to apartment, or never or rarely use.

So, for today's list... a list of things I keep.

Things I keep:

1. Navy pumps that I've worn exactly twice
2. An old corduroy blazer, which, despite my waiting, has never come back in style
3. Everything that was ever owned by my great-grandmother, regardless of whether I use it or if it's even usable (many decorative vases, a makeup bag, a cracked turkey baster)
4. Old candle stubs
5. 10 years' worth of journals, diaries and spiral notebooks
6. My dog's baby teeth
7. Extra buttons
8. Mostly empty bottles of fingernail polish
9. Exactly one pair of pants a size too small, just in case


Things I may do for my father's birthday

The parents are meeting JK and me at The Brother and Sister-in-Law's house in Phoenix tomorrow (technically, later today). My father turns 57 later this month, so we're planning a few early-birthday festivities during the visit. By a "few," I really mean an all-day extravaganza. For example...

Some things I may do for my father's birthday:

1. Grudgingly agree to miniature golf.
2. Lose at bowling.
3. Buy dinner.
4. Insist that everyone wear party hats.
5. Eat vegan carrot birthday cake.
6. Sing "Manic Monday" and "Cecilia" and "Here Comes the Rain Again" in front of a drunken crowd of strangers at the neighborhood karaoke bar.
7. Drink more wine than is responsible.
8. Create a ridiculously complicated, impressively creative, last-minute gift with The Brother and Sister-in-Law.
9. Feel a little guilty for not doing more.
10. Eat left-over vegan carrot birthday cake for breakfast, while sneaking globs of icing under the table to the dog.



A couple of close friends are heading back to Alabama next week for a visit. It got me thinking of all the good things about Alabama, all the things I miss. And so, for today's installment...

The things I miss about 'Bammy:

1. The fried food
2. The way you can walk down the street, or go to dinner, or go to Target, and invariably run into at least five people you know
3. Bitching with friends about how drippingly religious everything is
4. The ho-cakes (they're like greasy pancakes made with cornmeal and then fried)
5. The looks on people's faces in other parts of the country when I tell them I live in Alabama
6. The world's most passionate women's rights activists
7. The way it rains for 30 minutes every afternoon in August, cooling things off and making the pavement steam
8. Sitting on porches with beer and friends and dogs
9. The immediate friendships that come from a small circle of like-minded people
10. Breaking into JK's backyard before we were dating, and having impromptu midnight pool parties



It's late. I'm tired. The computer's acting funny, and I still have so much to do, and it's 10:30 and I'm tired.

And so I apologize for this filler. This every-day thing can stink when you're over-worked and under-fed. Sigh.

So, a silly list. Send me yours. I want to know.

A few of my favorite things:
in no particular order

1. homemade spaghetti
2. a good book and a pillowy couch and open windows
3. wood-burning fireplaces
4. pancakes for dinner
5. the first warm day of the year, when you suddenly realize you can strip to your t-shirt and not get goose flesh
6. cold cereal
7. the sweet, solid feel of my dog, plopping his chin on my knee or in my hand
8. the smell of coffee in the morning, especially when JK makes it
9. the way JK always tucks the blankets around my shoulders when he gets up first in the morning
10. roller-skating



A few months ago, I read on someone else's blog that a common and nifty way to introduce one's self to the Blogland is to publish a "100 things about me" list, in 10 installments of 10. This seems like an appropriate task for the Month of Lists.

So, here goes.

100 things, 1-10
(in no particular order)

1. I've lived at 20 different addresses (in 32 years).
2. Cold cereal is my all-time favorite food.
3. I hate malls. A handful of years ago, congested shopping areas inspired in me a sense of dread that bordered on panic attack. Now, it simmers at resentment.
4. The two things I love shopping for are books and shoes.
5. Tags make me nervous (on sheets, pillows, dog toys -- strangely not the tags on clothes).
6. If I could be anyone for a day, I'd be the guest host on Saturday Night Live.
7. For several months when I was seven or eight, I knocked every piece of cake I attempted to eat into my lap (this included cake for my birthday, my brother's birthday, my grandmother's birthday and my father's birthday). I have since overcome any lingering cake anxiety and prefer those in the family of chocolate.
8. My dream vacation consists of a remote cabin, a body of water nearby, a stack of books, bottles of wine, my dog, and maybe one or two carefully vetted human beings.
9. I resent being asked a lot of questions.
10. The most commonly heard phrase coming from my mouth is, "so, I have a question...".



Today I:

1. Jumped in puddles with a three-year-old
2. Whispered to my dog
3. Walked outside without a winter coat for the first time since November
4. Used my own bags at two stores, one of them Target
5. Got strange looks for using my own bags at one of them (guess which)
6. Was told I knew too much about conjoined and parasitic twins
7. Ate two bowls of cold cereal
8. Wrote a new prologue
9. Cried over a National Geographic article
10. Wondered why our brains like things in groups of 10.

Lists: A List

Before I jump in with my own list-mania, I wanted to share the queen bee of list-writing (if there were such a genre), written by my very own friend, Cake Leslie. This is good stuff worth savoring:



I love lists. I love drawing in the check-mark box to the left of each entry. I love how a well-made list can make you feel like a more productive person than you really are. I'm one of those people who adds things to her list that she's already done, just so she can check them off.

NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month -- where you post one blog entry per day, for the month of November) has gone year-round, starting today. And the topic for the inaugural month? Lists. I have a busy March ahead, but I couldn't resist, when the theme was one of my favorite (albeit kind of geeky) things.

I'm not exactly sure how I'll wring 31-days' worth of posts out of this, but I'll try. And if you have any suggestions, give us a holler.

Happy list-making!


Heat wave

JK and I are going to Arizona in a few days to visit The Brother and Sister-In-Law. I can't wait. The temperature in Phoenix will hit 80 degrees this week. So far this winter, we've had 80 inches of snow.

I'm becoming one of those people obsessed with the weather. For example, our high this Saturday was 26. I've never before so eagerly anticipated 26 degrees, not even when I hated 7. Twenty-six means taking the dog for a walk without your nose hairs freezing. It means mittens are optional. It means the ice on the road turns to mush, and you no longer need to be terrified of driving to the grocery store.

To put it in perspective, 26 degrees is 38 degrees warmer than the temperature one morning last week when we woke up to -12.

We drove to the store Saturday afternoon with the windows partially rolled down. Passing by the lake, I could almost mistake the glare of sun on snow for the reflective glint of white-blue water, and I convinced myself the people skiing on the lake were surfers. "Isn't this great?!" I said, to no one in particular.

At the store, people walked around with stupid grins on their faces, liberated from scarves and balaclavas and practically jumping out of their long underwear. "Can you believe this weather?" they asked each other. Indeed, weather is almost all anyone here ever talks about anymore.

"Come on," one surly store clerk was overheard saying at Trader Joe's. "It's not that warm," to which a long line of customers responded with a collective gasp. If the relative heat wave hadn't instilled such euphoria, the crowd might've pelted her with their mini-muffins and packages of frozen edamame before kicking her out onto the freshly de-iced sidewalk.

The truth, though, is that 26 is cruel. Because tonight we're expecting another 4-6 inches of snow and freezing rain. And honestly, it's not like 26 degrees is anywhere close to warm. One might even say it's decidedly cold. We haven't seen grass since November, and we're not on the verge of seeing it again anytime soon.

The shine of 26 will wear off in a couple of days: We'll realize we really do need those mittens, the roads will freeze again, and we'll all continue going a little crazy as we wait impatiently for the end of April, when the three feet of snow outside will melt into dirty water and flood our basements.

But hey -- at least we'll get to wear T-shirts as we mop it all up.



Instead of New Year's Resolutions, I've decided to make Birthday Resolutions. The passing of one year of my own life seems much more meaningful than the random turning of the calendar.

Earlier this month, I turned 32. In the two weeks preceding my birthday, the following things happened:

1. I received a letter from my doctor, informing me of alarmingly high cholesterol.
2. I found my first gray hair.
3. I had a conversation with a friend, in which one of us said to the other, "You know, we're rapidly approaching the age when it's strange that we don't have children."

I've been thinking a lot about the passing of time lately and also the imperative to make moments count. Maybe not every moment -- I don't need to fondly recall the 30 minutes I spent in line at the airport ticket counter, for example -- but more of them than not.

They say 30 is the new 20. I hope 32 isn't the new 22. I don't want to be wandering aimlessly through the doorway of adulthood for the next 12 months. There comes a time probably for most of us, when we realize we know who we want to be. And we realize we have all the tools and powers to make that happen. And to not make that happen results primarily from our own laziness.

I want to be the kind of person who writes thank-you notes and sends tea bags home to sick co-workers and would rather take a walk with the dog -- under the sun, with wind on my face -- than watch old TV shows on DVD with the shades drawn. And lately, when I find myself hitting the "play" button on the remote control, with the blinds closed on a fine Sunday afternoon, I know I'm making a choice. The thank-you notes won't go out tomorrow. The dog remains unwalked. My world remains confined inside the walls of my living room.

JK and I were talking last night about the relationships we have, as adults, with our friends. When you live far away and lead busy lives and barely have time for your own family, friendships become valuable real estate. Sometimes ties become strained, and sometimes they snap altogether, for reasons of distance or time or inconvenience. The people who make your world a bigger, more enriched place tend to stick around. The others fade.

I'm thinking about this as a guiding principle for how to be the person I want to be: Does this decision or action or person expand my understanding of -- or impact in -- the world around me?

So this year, my Birthday Resolution (well, in addition to not eating as much cheese - check - and also to start exercising every day - check) is to live more deliberately, to make moments matter, and to choose paths that force me to live in the larger world, instead of staying tucked in my living room, with the television for company.



(This post includes pics, so you lovely email subscribers may want to pop over to the web version. Four words to make it worth your time: fun with hula hoops.)

Last weekend, some friends and I pulled off a huge feat -- a surprise graduation party for JK, who finished his grad program right before the holidays. Because he didn't go back to Alabama for the graduation ceremony, we decided we'd bring a little 'bama to him, in the form of fried chicken, okra, collards and cheap beer:

Our friend Adam is a semi-professional hula hooper (such things do exist, yes). He makes his own hoops and brought his nifty light-up one to the party -- the first pic is his wife, Stef; the second pic is Adam:

JK's parents came up from North Carolina for the festivities, as did friends from Chicago and Alabama. The best part was seeing JK's face when we arrived at Katy's house (ostensibly to "help move a dresser" at 7 p.m. on a Saturday), and his good friend Brian from Alabama answered the door.

I couldn't have pulled it off without the help of some very dear and patient friends (especially this one). Not to mention I now have enough left-over mac and cheese to last the rest of the year.



You know it's cold when you need to scrape the ice off the inside of your car windows. That's how cold it's been this week. And last week. And the week before that.

This afternoon I got home from the gym to find a squirrel dying in our front yard. It had managed to climb most of the way up a wooden trellis that stands between our house and the house next door, on its way to some tall tree branches. The squirrel was gray with dark brown speckles on its back, and a thin, droopy tail. It held a light-colored shell of something between its teeth, but its back legs kept giving way, and it lost its balance. To hold onto the trellis, it had to let go of the shell, which meant turning around and climbing back toward the ground. No use climbing all the way up the tree without food.

The squirrel was either injured or partially frozen. I checked the temperature when I later went inside -- it was 14 degrees with a wind chill of 3. At what temperature do squirrels start to suffer?

As soon as it reached the ice-covered ground, it paused, looking defeated, and then it fell over. From the front porch, I gasped. I think I actually clutched at my throat. Since winter started, the squirrels have been acting funny. They've been bolder and braver and a touch desperate, coming within a foot or two of a person, just to get a seed or something. Just after Thanksgiving, a fat one chased me down the sidewalk. I didn't think I could handle finding an actually dead squirrel in the yard, especially not one I had seen in pain while alive.

"Get the shell!" I said out loud. "You can do it!"

The squirrel righted itself and scampered around the base of the trellis, searching for something it could take back up the tree. Its back legs kept buckling and slipping to the side, which, as it walked, made it look sort of like a drunk person trying unsuccessfully to walk in a straight line. It trembled, its front paws especially shaky, and again it tumbled over.

I almost ran inside to tear up the last of the bread that was slowly going stale in our kitchen, but then I gave myself a silent lecture on the dangers of human intervention. "This is what happens in nature in the winter," I told myself, "this is what's supposed to happen."

The squirrel failed to find the shell. Instead it turned to look at the street.

"No!" I shouted. "Don't do it! You won't make it!"

The squirrel didn't listen. Luckily the roads were still bad from two days of winter storms, and the traffic on our street was thin. You know how squirrels leap and scamper? Imagine that, but in excruciatingly slow motion. Each time it landed on its way across the road, I could almost see it wince. This squirrel was making its last stand.

I watched as it reached the driveway across the street, then it paused under a parked car. As I waited to see what it would do next, I thought about all of the dramas that play out in this urban wilderness -- where people and cars and domesticated animals aren't the main players, but the backdrop, a few unnatural predators to avoid. Even here, in the middle of a small city, where concrete, bricks and asphalt far outnumber trees and grass, nature finds ways to take hold.

Our house is in a densely populated neighborhood, with yards the size of postage stamps and only a few feet between buildings. Before we moved in, our house had been vacant for several months. And we soon discovered that nature had started taking over, as if the natural parts (wood beams, wood floors) of this human-made building were being called home. Things -- who knows what -- were living in the walls. Centipedes and spiders had started colonies. Part of me felt bad about cleaning it all out -- the part that liked the idea of nature fighting back and reclaiming what is hers.

The squirrel emerged from under the car and made its way up the driveway. I watched until I could only see the tip of its tail. It was gone. And then I went inside.



Have you ever had the experience of really needing to do something, but then you lollygag a little, and suddenly time has passed, and you haven't done that thing you really needed to do? And the more that time passes, the more you need to do it, but for some reason you just can't?

And you look at the clock or the calendar and think to yourself, Gosh, I really need to do that; but with every passing hour or day, the task becomes increasingly impossible. So you feel guilty and possibly ashamed, and you silently berate yourself and lose sleep over that thing you need to do but haven't, and you tell yourself, Other people don't have this problem, other people are responsible.

Or maybe that's just me.

I approach procrastination as if it were a contact sport -- one that requires years of practice and knee pads and is rewarded in the end with trophies and cash endorsements. I usually procrastinate over the rather mundane, like doing the laundry or writing thank you notes. But every now and then, I play in the big league and partake in the kind of procrastination that can lead to night sweats -- the kind connected to something important, something big, something that involves other people or big future dreams.

I have neglected finishing a Very Important Document (read: book proposal) for three months. I often would wake up sometime before 2 a.m. and silently fret, then promise myself that tomorrow I would finish it. I am very happy to report (not that this means anything to anyone but me) that just a few minutes ago, I finally -- yes indeedy -- finished the stinkin' Very Important Document and sent it off to The Agent. It needs more work, but at least it's no longer sitting on my desk, giving me the evil eye.

This is reason to celebrate. I think I'll put off starting on my taxes and instead relax with a little Law & Order that just arrived from Netflix...