Friday, February 25, 2005

Tonight I am sad for things unspoken, for too much time having passed without amends or reconciliation. And I am still bereft words. So, for Gayle, who may not be with the world much longer, and for Sandra, whose husband is facing his mortality gravely as well, I post Sylvia Plath's poem: "Last Words."

I do not want a plain box, I want a sarcophagus
With tigery stripes, and a face on it
Round as the moon, to stare up.
I want to be looking at them when they come
I see them already --the pale, star-distance faces.
Now they are nothing, they are not even babies.
I imagine them without fathers or mothers, like the first gods.
They will wonder if I was important.
I should sugar and preserve my days like fruit!
My mirror is clouding over --
A few more breaths, and it will reflect nothing at all.
The flowers and the faces whiten to a sheet.

I do not trust the spirit. It escapes like steam
In dreams, through mouth-hole or eye-hole. I can't stop it.
One day it won't come back. Things aren't like that.
They stay, their little particular lusters
Warmed by so much handling. They almost purr.
When the soles of my feet grow cold,
The blue eye of my turquoise will comfort me.
Let me have my copper cooking pots, let my rouge pots
Bloom about me like night flowers, with a good smell.
They will roll me up in bandages, they will store my heart
Under my feet in a neat parcel.
I shall hardly know myself. It will be dark,
And the shine of these small things sweeter than the face of Ishtar.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

I am fickle about my horoscope.

I am, I admit, a fair-weather horoscope reader. If it's good, promising and may shed light, financial abundance or other more metaphysical windfalls on my life, I take it seriously (as seriously as one takes one's horoscope). If not, I say pshaw and try to quell the niggling feeling that I should pay attention to how "conflict will arise today, Virgo, but take it face on, for conflict is the heart of change," or some such hooteninny.

So here are two I received today. One from Rob Brezny (Free Will Astrology). I love him, and alternately, I am irritated by his whimsical ramblings, his indirect metaphors (as this one):

"To be in maximum alignment with the cosmic trends, go to the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and commune with the painting "Peach Tree in Blossom" while sipping peach blossom wine and thinking deep thoughts about the parts of you that are like peach blossoms. Here's another possibility: Travel to a place where actual peach blossoms are blooming and meditate on why the Chinese consider this flower the most auspicious of plants. If you can't manage either of those actions, Virgo, please at least find images of peach blossoms on the Internet and gaze at them as you muse fondly of the delicate young aspects of your life that most need your love and care. "

But then, I get this one from earthlink.Now, I hear you saying, how on earth can you take something ethereal, driven by cosmic bodies and divined by astrological interpreters, from an email software service seriously? But I swear to you, if ever I have received a divine horoscope, it has come from them. Perhaps it is that perfect blend of technology and mysticism:

Even though the problems that arise may not seem like yours to deal with, the fact is that they are sure to have an effect on your psyche, dear Virgo. Your emotions are running at an especially high level, and you may not even realize the source of this intensity. Sit down with yourself and put the pieces together. Maybe you are suddenly feeling an upswell of anger from a comment someone made during last week. Or perhaps someone else's trauma is starting to have adverse effects on your own frame of mind because of your concern for their well-being.

So tell me. Analyze these two horoscopes for me and tell me what they mean!

Then, read this wierd little piece I wrote some years back, called "Zodiac Girl." It sheds light on my childhood in an oblique sort of way.

Zodiac Girl

In elementary school, somewhat of a wilting flower, I was shocked by a brash boy striding my direction one recess. Turns out that only the roll of fruity Lifesavers I'd taken, sticky from my pocket, tantalized him.

"Gimme one," he demanded.

I was an only child, wary of sharing. I hesitated too long.

"If you don't share with me, God will strike you down!"

I trembled. How could I prove that this "God" he threatened me with wasn't a serious thug, an unpredictable and petty deity, not to be trifled with? My parents worshipped at the oracle of planetary influence. My friends attended church or temple services; I had my chart cast. My childhood was steeped in astrological houses and trines, the esoteric geography of planets and their effects on human nature. Before I learned to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school I learned the lyrical descriptions of Mercury, which governs my sun-sign (she'll be a writer!) and Venus, that harbinger of romances lost and kept, and how a Cancer moon affected my emotions ("moody" as it turned out). It was a language I spoke at home as fluently as my grandparents spoke Hebrew and German.

I was born under the sign of Virgo. Both my grandmothers found this pinning of a sign on a child to be a useless and harmful practice.

"What does it have to do with how she cleans her room?" Grandma Shields would say.

There's always the chance that astrology is a kind of psychic placebo, but after a lifetime of growing up under its ancient eye, I can only vouch for how it shaped me. If I was pining for a boy, like skateboarder Billy Atkinson, the slightest positive word "this week, exciting things could happen for you, Virgo!" could send me into a spiral of ecstasy.

As the law of opposites would have it, I loved going to church with my friends, with all that ritual and pomp, high stained-glass windows and the sad, carved variations of Jesus. I loved standing in line to receive a communion wafer, its rough surface foreign on my tongue. I loved the order, the routine and the clean interiors of those palaces built to God, even though I was wary of the messages that God-fearing folk spouted.

Any good book on astrology will tell you that this is all true to my sign.

In my early-twenties I met and married a man whose formative years were spent in a cultish religion. His father was an overworked, Highway Patrol officer, his mother a smothering stay-at-home housewife of three boys. To escape this painful crucible, he sought philosophies that helped him surge upwards out of dogma and rigid thinking. When I met him, he also thought astrology was a crock.

I was crushed; astrology was my replacement religion after all. I had learned to define myself and others within the twelve neatly-packaged classifications of the Zodiac. My husband also happens to be a Leo, a sign that is often qualified by a tendency toward self-grandiosity, needing to be in the spotlight. I couldn't blame him for not wanting to fit this definition. Indeed, he seemed very anti-Leo, and this bolstered his argument against the study of planetary influence.

"How can the random arrangement of the planets at the moment of your birth determine how your life will go?" he'd demand.

"How can you be so sure it can't?" I would argue back. Astrology had provided me with optimistic forecasts, safe assessments of people and, I pointed out, had been more reliable than some of the science I learned in school. At least, I insisted, it was better than religion.

He saw it coming. "Astrology isn't so different from religion. It requires someone to translate and uncover hidden "truths."

I struggled to find a rebuttal. My husband, a psychologist, was taken with a personality typing system in which you can discover ways to free yourself from personality's ironclad grip without translators.

We had hours of debate, until eventually we would finish, exhausted, where we started: each holding to our theory.

Ironically, the more my husband used his own model to become "more himself" the more he met the positive qualities of a Leo in astrological terms.

More powerfully, the main tenets of his beloved personality typing system has its roots in a philosophy that revolves around planetary influences of a different sort. He couldn't defend that. Though I still waver in my beliefs about God, or a cosmic plan for humanity, this intersection of our beliefs proved that there is an irrefutable design, a big cosmic code waiting to be unlocked.

As for that boy from elementary school…Virgos are thoughtfully cautious; I gave him a lifesaver…just in case.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Don't Forget, the time to sign up for "Creating Space: The Law of Attraction for Writers" is slowly spiraling closer to the end. Visit the link to the right here for sign-up details.

Oh blessed day, I am writing a novel again! Oh the heady endorphin rush of the writer-at-work. This will be, when finished, my fourth novel. My first novel "Stranger in the Door," languishes in a drawer, which is what often happens to first novels. My second novel "Self-Serve" languishes on my computer, having come "THIS CLOSE" as they say, to being plucked up by Harper Collins in the good ole' days when I had an agent. (They bought another book with a "similar theme" they said). My third novel, which is really my second-novel once-removed (don't ask), "Shaky Grounds," is in the hands of Red Dress Ink and a partial at Algonquin Books for consideration. Do I fear that telling you this will ruin my chances? Nah. I've got the Law of Attraction on my side.

Now I'm beginning "What is Lost" [working title], and feeling pretty darn good about it. Not the it that it is now, but the it that it will become. I'm also working with the magnificent Alice Mattison this final semester at Bennington, and she's mentoring me on it. I've never written a novel with present time feedback on it, but perhaps this is the special ingredient I needed. I'm also story-boarding. You know, writing chapter details on little 3 x 5 cards (mine are multi-colored) and plotting out the few chapters ahead so that I have some structure. I've got nearly 100 pages (before Alice gets to them at least).

I'm toying with the idea of creating a novel blog-in-progress, but I think that might be dangerous.

I'm also collecting ideas. Yes, that's right. Any ideas that seem worthy of my knowing about them. They could become any number of things. Stories, fantasies, musings, articles, slanderous tabloid pieces, falsified essays...who knows.

I leave you with this bit from the Tao te Ching:

If turbid waters are stilled,
they will gradually become clear;
If something inert is set in motion,
it will gradually come to life.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Oh beautious day (ignore spelling!) I have begun to write fiction again. The dry spell is over. This is just a will understand that it is raw, and therefore forgive me (excerpt pasted below).

Wierd fact of the day: I, like poet/essayist/novelist Sylvia Plath, whose age of death I am currently at (though planning to stay alive, I assure you), also had sinusitus, like my doctor just pronounced is the likely medical label for what ails my right sinus. It's good to have ailments that famous writers had.

Five interesting facts about me: (choice of the word "interesting" up for discussion)

--I have never broken a bone in my body.
--I have a sibling exactly half my age.
--I cannot ski.
--I have been a radio host for almost two years!?
--I can tuck my right leg completely behind my head.

"Intersection" (to be continued)... (A short story)

What would it be like, Dana wondered, while fixing her hair in the mirror, not to brush her teeth just then? To be dressed for an elegant party, but have the secret fuzz on her teeth across which she could run her tongue as she rapped with Ben’s sisters. What if a slight aura of bad breath seeped out inches ahead of her; like the breath of Ben’s father who ignored a history of emphysema to enjoy nicotine’s easily-imparted gifts.

Ben was already dressed. She could hear him folding tinfoil over the dishes she’d made; steamed asparagus spears slathered in mustard sauce, mashed sweet potatoes and the butternut squash pie.

She became fixated on the thought of all those foods creating a thin veneer on her teeth; a part of every dish undigested, saved. The crudity of it gave her a perverse thrill, but as she applied hair spray and ran her tongue across her teeth, she put toothpaste on her toothbrush before she could give in to the strange impulse. It was such a simple act. So simple, but the act of not following through on it felt sacreligious.

“Dane, I need your help out here,” Ben called out. Dana tucked her lipstick into her jacket pocket; she would apply it in the car.

Ben wore the Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired tie she’d bought him and this made her feel proud, as if he was showing off her good taste to his family, who prided themselves on their good taste. In fact, it was this feature that had left her self-conscious for the seven years they’d been together. A tiny, bright stain-on-the-underpants kind of self-conscious; perhaps no one on the outside could tell, but it distracted her just enough to feel as though they thought Ben had settled for her—a social worker from a lower class background.

Ben’s hair had just begun to gray at the temples. Dana wasn’t sure when, precisely, in the last month she’d noticed the waxy, gray hairs, but there they were now, as obvious as if they’d been professionally highlighted. It leant a strangely stern appearance to his otherwise boyish face. He was only forty, though, so Dana pretended not to notice them and, if it bothered him, he kept it to himself.

“Hey, you look nice in that,” he said, stopping to admire her in the ‘naughty black cocktail dress’ she’d bought just for this occasion.

“Well thanks for sounding surprised,” she said, grabbing the pie from his hands. “Don’t tip that, it’ll leak out all its juices.”

“My testy sweetheart,” he teased, relinquishing the pie to her. He held the bag with the other dishes in it and in his other hand, a bag stuffed with Christmas presents. “It’s times like this I’m glad we have no kids,” he said, trying to wrangle his keys into his hands, which were already too full.

She tried not to feel stung by that statement as she handed him the keys he couldn’t negotiate between packages. It had been her decision not to have kids because they had steady careers and were living their lives the way they wanted, unencumbered. Their child-laden friends lived in chaos. Besides, she was thirty-six now. Not exactly too old, but probably in her case. Her mother and grandmother had put their babymaking to rest by the age of twenty-five.

They loaded the car in two loads, the backseat of their new Prius crowded in a way that made Dana feel like such a conspicuous consumer. Ben drove, as always, and Dan wrapped an errant tendril of hair around her finger, her dangly crystal earrings making a happy jingling sound in her ears. Ben was, as always before a visit to his family, silent in a way that used to scare her. After the first few times in their early dating years, he’d finally told her about the mental tricks he had to play with himself in order to survive it; he’d only told her because she burst out sobbing. “It’s like psyching up for a big tennis match,” he’d explained.

Since her own family was scattered to the four winds, her father dead for that matter and her mother and brothers better in letter than person, she often had come close to asking Ben why he didn’t stop visiting his family altogether. Why, when each gathering left him overwhelmed and cranky for days afterward. But somehow, this seemed an insulting thing to ask of him, and so she went along.

They were not two blocks on their way when they passed a large, white Chevy stalled at an awkward angle in the middle of the busy “D” street intersection.

“Ben, stop. Go back. There’s an old man back there who needs help.”

Though Ben placed an enormous amount of importance—an undue amount, she thought—on being timely, he also had a similar bleeding heart for the weak and the old as she did. But she hadn’t taken into consideration the mental zone he was in.

“The social worker saves the day, eh?” He said, but he turned around at the next stoplight nonetheless and Dana forgave him, deciding it was just nerves.

They had to wait a long minute before the cars that were passing the stalled Chevy had swerved angrily around him.

“And on Christmas day,” she said softly. “Don’t people give a shit?”

Ben took her hand as they ran across the street, she, hobbling in heels. “They care about getting their family get togethers over with, and taking home their loot,” he answered.

The owner of the car was bent down on all fours, wearing ratty blue jeans and a faded plaid flannel shirt. His worn leather jacket was tossed carelessly across the hood of the car.

Not a single other passing car stopped.

“You okay? What’s the problem” Ben asked the man, who continued to peer up under the chassis of his car, and then back toward the street as if he were trying to urge a tool to magically appear. He didn’t seem to have heard Ben.

“Sir?” Dana called out. Finally he turned his head toward them, muttering to himself. He was missing one tooth on top and bottom of his mouth as if someone had knocked him in the mouth with a short, blunt instrument. His face looked sun-worn, lined and blotted with dark spots. By Dana’s estimate he was in his mid-seventies, or else late sixties and he had just led a hard life. He muttered some more and Ben attempted to translate.

“Your brakes?”

“Froze up,” they could make out.

“We should call you a tow-truck,” Dana said, after Ben attempted without luck to push the car forward out of the street.

“I’m getting my cell phone,” she said. “Give me your keys, honey,” she prodded her husband. Ben seemed irritated, as if he had entered the same strange capsule the man seemed to be lost inside. But he dug for the keys and tossed them at her. A passing car honked at her as she crossed. When she returned with the cell phone the man was talking, but rather to the air and Ben was looking perplexed.

“I’ve got his first name…Earnest. But I’m not sure he’s all…there,” Ben whispered.

She waved her cell phone at him and he took it and began to call roadside assistance. She approached Earnest. “We’re getting some help, Earnest. We’ll have someone come along and get you going again, okay? Okay, Earnest?”

He looked her straight in his eyes when she said his name a second time, but he seemed unwilling to acknowledge that they were helping him in any way. It gave her a chilled feeling and suddenly she wanted to be in Ben’s parents’ warm living room, because this moment made her feel more inadequate than the Fosters’ and their big house and prattled off achievements.
She looked over Earnest’s shoulder into his car for something that might be of use in the moment. There was nothing in his car at all except for a road atlas and one can of something on the passenger seat. She leaned closer. A can of Alpo wet dog food.

Another car had finally pulled over, and a fellow leaned out his window asking if they needed further help. Suddenly Dana felt protective, proprietary. This was their sad old man to help. He was under their good care! Ben was still on hold with Triple A. But even as she reassured the stranger in the truck that everything was fine, she saw a fire truck tooling up the road from the nearby station; someone must have called. Someone who didn’t want to stop and get their hands dirty, but who felt guilty nonetheless.

Earnest continued to mutter and drop down to gaze at the underbelly of his misbehaving vehicle. The fire truck parked on the nearest side street and a team of doughty men, tall, stocky and handsome—or maybe the moment simply made them so, Dana thought—stepped out and quickly began to take charge.

Ben called Triple A back to cancel the tow-truck and Dana felt self-conscious of her femaleness, a girl among boys, useless.

Dana leaned forward to help Earnest up from his knees and her lipstick fell with a plasticky thunk from her pocket onto the ground at his feet, splintering the top. She was as embarrassed as if a tampon or condom had fallen from her pocket, and so she left it there, then kicked it with her heel surreptitiously toward the gutter.

Within minutes the firemen had discovered that Earnest had simply run out of gas, and it was a sticky emergency brake that made his vehicle impossible to push. They had extra gas in their truck and they filled Earnest’s tank in a matter of minutes. There was an oddly beautiful choreography to the whole scene.

Ben had become aware of the time again. “We have to skeedaddle,” he said.
“Do you think he’s ok?” she asked, feeling an unspeakable sadness, like she had failed somehow.

“Sure he is. Those guys’ll get him home.”

But she couldn't really explain that she wasn’t happy with this outcome. She wanted to follow him home, make sure he got back into his house. Perhaps she could put on some tea for him, drape a blanket across his knees. Behn urged her with a frustrated grip on her arm back toward the car.

“Bye Earnest,” she called out again, but the old man didn’t hear her. One of the firemen waved in his stead.

They drove in silence for awhile until Ben, uncharacteristically asked her, “What are you thinking?”

She didn’t want to tell him.


“Oh come on. I never get away with that answer.”

“I just feel sad that he’s alone on Christmas.”

“Ah, your social worker instincts at work,” Ben said.

“Stop saying that. They’re just human instincts. It’s not that. This isn’t a family in decline anyway, or an abused wife. This is just a sad, lonely old man.”

Ben checked his watch and frowned. “How do you know he’s sad and lonely?”

She couldn’t say that her only proof was how sad and lonely she had felt in the old man’s presence. Particularly after seeing that lone can on his seat.

“Did you see the dog food?” she asked.


“One can of dog food. On his seat. Why only one can? Why not two or three? A week’s supply?”

“Oh, no, Dana. I know what you’re thinking…”

“Well, what if?”

“I highly doubt it,” he said.

“But he could…I don’t know, he ran out of gas, maybe he has no money. Maybe he stole it.”

“For the size of that can, he could have stolen something a lot more edible, I assure you,” Ben said, sounding irritated.

“Maybe he’s punishing himself,” she said, though she couldn’t say exactly how she meant this, and was glad when Ben’s obvious anxiety about nearing his parents’ house prevented him from answering.