Monday, February 28, 2005


Every so often a day--or a week--is so jam-packed with events that it makes my head spin. Especially when some of the participants in the events insist on piling melodrama and insanity on top of the usual chaos. I do not think of our family as one of those that obsessively over schedules the kids--I think kids need down time, even boredom time. It fosters creativity and bedevilment. But looking over the list I begin to feel a little faint. Sarcasm Girl has two voice lessons, a doctor's visit, and an audition (at one point she made my heart stop by reminding me that she had an orthodontist appointment this week--which she doesn't. It's in March). YG has her first softball practice of the season, a guitar lesson, and karate. I have fencing and a small local convention, Potlatch--also a stint on Friday night answering phones at San Jose's public TV station phonathon (MWA is sending a bunch of the local members). When the principal at YG's school told me today that there are two afterschool meetings this week, I balked and said I could make one and not the other.

Finally, I literally sat down and plotted out the week and who was taking whom where. It will all get done, and no one will be horribly shortchanged, but I have to say that never in my fondest dreams did I imagine that parenthood would require me to map out my movements like Napoleon marching on Russia.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Hot Monkey Love

From today's Chronicle:"Ex-worker is third to sue over gorilla--Woman says she had to show her breasts to Koko."

Every now and then I find a story of the "if I wrote this as fiction it would be pitched out as too improbable" persuasion. This reads high on that meter.

Friday, February 25, 2005

It Takes a Village, Not a Yenta

I had never heard of Chez Miscarriage until I was directed there by Making Light. Now I will probably have to add this to my list of blogs to check up on. The discussion that hooked me was about "mothering drive-by,"the phenomenon where one parent upbraids another for failure to adhere to first parent's standards. Aw, you know: "You're letting your child run around without mittens when it's 40 degrees out?" "Don't you think your obesity sets a poor example for your children?" "Oh, I never let little Smedley eat processed sugar/wheat/juice/junk food/candy..." And those are the relatively mild ones; the breastfeeding fanatics, the organic food fanatics, the Montessori/ Waldorf/etc. fanatics can be really over the top: I had a woman respond to my very mild assertion that breastfeeding was a personal decision by stating, "Well it shouldn't be! If all babies were breastfed there would be no crime!" Anyway, after Chez Miscarriage made her first post about this phenomenon, she got something like 300 comments--half of them drive-by scolds by people who clearly didn't get the point of her post.

I have been a victim of the drive-by (breathes there a parent who hasn't?). SG, at age four, told off a woman who scolded me for not using one of the straps on the stroller to belt her in (the kid, not the woman). Generally I try to be noncommittal to someone who aims a drive-by comment in my direction, but really: I'm insecure enough about my parenting skills: I know I'm doing it wrong, dammit! Even if I disagree with you about what it is I'm screwing up.

But before I get all self-righteous about people who scold and run, let be be honest. I harbor unworthy thoughts in my heart. I have watched a fat child scarfing down a large McDonalds fries and wondered what the kid's mother is thinking. I just don't say anything, because it's not my place. I have watched two parents so involved in quarrelling that they weren't watching their kids drift too close to the edge of a BART platform, and I didn't say anything, because it's not my place (actually, in that case, I chatted up the kids and lured them back to the center of the platform. My heart can only take so much). Would I keep still if I thought a child was in danger? I don't think so. There have been a couple of times I wondered if I should be intervene. But then I have to remember that there were a whole lot of people on Columbus Avenue the day I had to sling a 3-year-old YG over my shoulder as she kicked and screamed at me, who did not report me to Children's Services. A twenty-second window into someone else's life is not much to base a judgement on.

I try, when I can, to be helpful to other parents. Hold the Post Office door for the woman with the huge stroller; play peek-a-boo with a toddler while her dad is occupied looking for his credit card at the checkout; stop a baby who's lurched out of his mom's reach and is about to hit the street. Granted, I'm not Supergirl, whizzing around the city from parent to parent making it all better. But I know I like it when someone holds a door or catches something for me; it makes me feel like this parenting thing is possible.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

The Creepy Thing Is...

...this strikes me as frighteningly possible. The first couple of paragraphs are the best (as with a lot of parody, the initial idea is great, but it doesn't sustain as well), and I kind of wish they'd stopped there. But still.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Politics, Briefly

Bush's second term has started out with all sorts of pre-Iraq-style rumblings from the White House, focused on Iran. I suppose it is predictable (I mean, our invasion of Iraq has been such a success, why shouldn't we go make the world safe for Democracy somewhere else?). What I hadn't heard about until this morning's Chronicle was this. We're just warning everyone, aren't we? I'm particularly piqued by the fact that Bush admonished Russia to work harder at democracy as part of a trip meant to repair some of the damage done by our invasion of Iraq. Way to mend fences!

Monday, February 21, 2005

Swatting a Fly with a Howitzer

As Greg Feeley will tell you, I am no critic (nor do I play one on TV). On the other hand, I've been wading in story for my entire life, and it rubs off on my kids. This has led to some fascinating discussions) but more often leads to me silently shaking my head at the movies and kids' shows that the girls watch. Sarcasm Girl is now above most such things (she had a babysitting gig last night and came home talking sentimentally about her sittee's attachment to Mary Kate and Ashley: "I remember I used to be obsessed with them!") but YG is deep in teen-movie territory.

So last night, as YG and I were home alone, she rented the latest Hilary Duff vehicle, Raise Up Your Voice. She has a great relationship with the terminally cool video store clerks (they of the multiple piercings and intriguingly colored hair) and there was some discussion about how YG didn't really like Hilary Duff, how Lindsay Lohan is infinitely superior, but this movie has Oliver James, who is kind of cute ("And British, which helps," the girl at the counter added). Assured by the Cool Kids that there was no shame in renting the movie, YG pranced home with her rental, and we had a Mom and Kid ice-cream-and-movie debauch. Only of course, I can't turn my brain off.

It's a amiable little nothing of a film (STOP HERE if you don't want to know the plot. As if.) in which Duff wants to go to a summer music program in LA; her father is dead set against it; her brother is supportive, and he dies in a nasty car accident in the first reel. Understandably depressed, Duff gives up any hope of going, but her aunt and mother connive to sneak her out of the house by pretending that Duff is visiting the aunt for three weeks. She goes. She learns. There are plot complications, mostly involving Duff's inability to fully commit to her talent and her work because she's so depressed--every time she sees a bright light (like, when she's on stage) she flashes back to the headlights of the car that killed her brother. Of course, by the last reel, everything will work out: her father will learn that he has been decieved, arrive right before the Big Recital, discover that he has been wrong to hold her back, and forgive all; Duff will resolve her minor romantic difficulties with the adorable Oliver James; and she will decide that her brother is watching over her and commit to her music and Wow the World. Move along, there's nothing to see here.

I kept my comments to my own interior monologue, as YG was enjoying this. But the chiefest problem with the film is that every single kid at the program has more talent than Duff; the pianist plays piano better than Duff sings; the violinist plays the violin better than Duff sings; her romantic rival sings at least as well as Duff does. Duff has a high, thin, pleasant little voice, and the final triumphant bring-it-all-together number is well enough. But the Big Recital is where all the students vie for a $10,000 scholarship. I was sitting there thinking, if this movie lets Duff get the scholarship it will undercut any shred of honesty it might have pretended to--but I didn't say that aloud. That's when YG turned to me and said, "her friend with the violin was much better. She should get the money." I said something tactful like, Uh huh.

And lo and behold, her friend gets the scholarship, and it's okay because Just Being Up There and Showing What She Could Do was enough for Duff. I did not discuss with YG the fact that the movie still has its cake and eats it too--her friend is the only student who mentions needing the money, and her friend is also the only visible African American in the group. But YG did note to me later that if the movie had given Duff the scholarship it would have been just wrong.

In a few years, when YG is old enough to see John Travolta get upset when he wins the dance prize in Saturday Night Fever, YG will know just what's up.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Heavy Lifting

This morning I went out to brunch with my friend Jim Brunet and his lovely wife Anne (whom I had never met before) who were in town for a friend's birthday. Jim is a friend from online, but we've met a few times--once when he brought his daughter up to look at colleges, and again last year at Noreascon. It was surprisingly lovely to go out and be a grownup--which is to say, to talk about anything we wanted, without having to explain anything to the kids. Returned home and somehow found myself embroiled in YG's plan to renovate her room. This involved taking almost all her furniture out of the room and replacing it with other furniture. A loft bed built atop her desk, dresser and cabinet was swapped out for her sister's old dresser, and the bed which goes under the loft bed. Bookshelves were moved. Many things were singled out for yard sale, donation to her school, and the trash bin. I am not certain that there is any point on my body that doesn't hurt.

Before we began moving things, I made her take all the books and games and crap off the bookshelves; this stuff is still in boxes, and tomorrow when YG is at her guitar lesson (and then goes to a birthday party) I am going to force organization on the room. It won't last long, of course, but for a moment I can pretend that life is a manageable thing.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Betcha Balzac Didn't Have to Deal With This

Not that I'm Balzac, or anyone other than myself. Even so.

This morning Spouse and I delivered the car to be serviced, then took the Bart out to Daly City, where he works, and I have a favorite Starbucks which will let me sit with my laptop for three or four hours, writing in a corner. All is well until about 9:30, when Sarcasm Girl sends me an illicit text message: "I have a really huge favor please I'll love you forever."

Really huge favors that come in at 9:30 in the morning usually involve my taking time out from my short work day to fix some problem that has come up because SG has spaced something. This case was no different: dress rehearsal for her drama class play today (she has the lead), and she had left her costume on the stairs in the front hall, and could I pleasepleaseplease go home, pick up the costume, and drop it off at school. Of course, since the car was at the garage, this meant taking public transportation, which means the whole process is not a fifteen minute annoyance but an hour-and-a-half annoyance. I was stern. Hell, I was grouchy. But in the end I folded up my tents and my laptop and caught the Bart home, gathered up the costume bits, and delivered them to school. By the time I got home again there was an hour until I had to leave to pick up Younger Girl (whose school ends at 1:50--a fact I find actively hostile to a freelancer's liftstyle). So I had lunch and did some reading. Total writing done today: revisions on three pages, before SG called.

I did, at least, parlay this into "I will do this favor for you, but you will come home and clean your room." We'll see whether her gratitude lasts beyond dinner.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


On impulse at the supermarket, Younger Girl and I picked up a four-pack of Graples. Pronounced grape-ells. The package advertised that they looked like apples (which indeed they did) and tasted like grapes.

In fact, when you cut into them, they are structurally like apples, but have a strong concord grape perfume. The taste is applish, but with a lingering grape overtone (yes, I know I sound like a pretentious wine critic, but there's really no other way to explain it). They are very pleasing. Of course, when I consider the probable sinister origins of this fruit, it makes me wonder whether I will wake up next week with one leg shorter than the other, all for eating Graples. In search of knowledge, I Googled the name, and came up with one mention of the fruit itself, and many instances where the word "grapples" had been misspelled. "They grapled for the gun" takes on a whole new meaning when one has tried this fruit.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Literacy Candy

Among the other treats received chez nous today were small boxes of Necco Sweethearts--you know, the little hearts with sayings like "Be Mine" or "Love Me." This year I was pleased to note that I got hearts that said "Let's Read" and "Let's Write." Beats the hell outta "Oh U Kid!"


May you all get the chocolate hearts, wobbly handmade cards, flowers and other St. Valentine's Day pelf your hearts desire. We had crepes for breakfast (YG's idea) and opened our cards at breakfast; tonight Spouse and I are going out for dinner. A small island of peace in a sea of turmoil and missing homework...

Friday, February 11, 2005


The sky is falling. Actually, the sky, gray and misty, is in its proper place. But the paint on the downstairs hall ceiling is falling down in large chunks--the last fallout, literally, of our roof follies. Nothing structural, but it's daunting when you go downstairs to get the paper and find a foot-square piece of paint has chipped off and shattered on the floor.

And Spouse has become preoccupied with the health of the foundation. Joy.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

My Favorite Beatle

Elsewhere I stumbled into a brief flare up of the John Lennon vs. Paul McCartney debate. In this argument John is frequently held up as the tortured genius, and Paul as the glib, facile musical glad-hander. When I think about it, it's the people who take this side of the argument who are most vocal; the people I hear disagreeing tend to note that John was indeed an unhappy fellow, and that he was brilliant, but add that McCartney was also brilliant, but may have had a gift for being less, um, tortured. And being less tortured isn't as cinematic as being tortured; dying violently and too early also adds to one's legend. Somehow John promoted the idea, and it took, that he was the artistic core of the Beatles, that he was the risk taker, the experimenter, the iconoclast, the working man's hero, etc.

I guess all this was on my mind this afternoon when I opened my email and found an offer to buy tickets to Lennon, a new musical based on John's life. According to the copy, "'Lennon' takes us on the remarkable,mythical journey of the man behind the greatest rock legacy and boldest love story of our time--through his own music!"

Whoa. My first thought was, when does McCartney get his own musical? "Macca!" Yeah, like that's going to happen.

I don't quite get the need to choose up sides on which of the Beatles was the leader (I remember the press trying very hard to make one of them be the Beatle-in-chief during interviews). The whole thing winds up being like one of those "which one would win in a fight, Spiderman or Superman?" (Well, duh: Superman.) What I really think is that the Beatles were a pretty perfect demonstration of synergy; John and Paul each did some good work on their own, and some howlers too. But working in the same band, whether they were hating each other or loving each other, they were always trying to impress each other. The sum, in fact, was greater than the parts.

For the record, my favorite Beatle was George.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Happy Birthday, Big Bird

Since Dashiell Hammett lived for a number of years in San Francisco, and wrote his most famous work here, the local paper has been filled with pieces about the Maltese Falcon, which turns 75 this week. Pieces on Bogart as Spade, on "why a Falcon," on Hammett, on hard-drinking writers in general, and on the guy who does a "Maltese Falcon" tour of downtown San Francisco. One of these days I'm going to have lunch at John's Grill, where Sam Spade ate lunch (lamb chops). In the meantime, maybe later I'll lift a glass to Spade and the Bird.

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Magpie News

Like some birds and most small children, I can be easily fascinated by shiny objects. Today when I was reading the paper I was intrigued by this. The departing White House chef says he couldn't satisfy Laura Bush (no, I didn't mean that, so stop thinking I did): "We've been trying to find a way to satisfy the first lady's stylistic requirements," Scheib said in a telephone interview, "and it has been difficult. Basically, I was not successful in my atempt."

This does sort of beg the question: what on earth does the woman require? It's too easy to say "maybe she wants everything deep fried" or "they only eat Spam(tm)" or something like that; maybe Laura Bush is a health fanatic, or only wants tofu and green onions. Scheib was noted for bringing American wines and fresh ingredients to the White House table--that doesn't sound so bad. And what does "stylistic requirements" mean? What's frustrating to me is that, unlike the Big Awfuls for which the current denizens of the White House are responsible--Iraq, the proposed gutting of Social Security, the gutting of public education funding--it's unlikely there's ever going to be a leaked memo, ten years from now, explaining what all this was about.

See what I mean? I'm easily distracted by shiny objects.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Projecting Forward

While I'm writing one thing, I'm very often thinking about what else I might be writing. This is partly functional: if I'm stuck on the current project (if not stuck, I am at least slogging very slowly) it's far more fun to turn my attention to Something Else (Anything Else!) than to keep staring at the current work and wondering whether I'm going to win or it is. But it is also a part of that blithe pioneer spirit that looks toward the horizon and a bit of unconquered space. At least, that's what I'm telling myself.

I have had, for several years, an idea for the book I'd like to write next. It was inspired by repeated readings of a lushly illustrated kids' picture book, a retelling of one of the classic fairy tales. Only, if I do it the way I want to do it, many readers might read the book and not recognize the core story (no, I'm not going to tell you what story it is). My thought was to set the story in medieval Italy. This causes a certain tangling up of terminology: while of course Italy existed during the years all the other nations in Europe were having a middle ages, as I read and research I find it hard to pinpoint that era in Italy. There's the Renaissance, and before that the endless decline of the Roman empire and the splitting up of the Empire in to smaller factions, and many invasions by other parties. You can point your finger at France or Germany or England and say, there, that's the middle ages. It's harder in Italy.

One thing that sold me on the time and place was Trotula di Salerno, an early and wildly influential gynecologist in the 13th century who was a teacher at the medical school in Salerno--and a woman. Her texts were still being used by doctors as late as the 18th century, and while some of her information is decidedly of the "you puts a knife under the bed to cut the pain" variety, other of it is remarkably sage. Her name survives in some versions of "Jack and Jill": "then off Jack got and off did go as fast as he could caper/to Old Dame Trot, who patched his nob with vinegar and brown paper." I really want my protagonist to be one of Trotula's students. And of course, I'd love to be able to go to Italy to scope out the terrain.
Unfortunately, Salerno is one of those towns that was pretty much flattened during World War II. While the climate and the physical feel of the city is probably unchanged from 900 years ago, there is very little of the medieval university, or the medieval city, to be found.

So I'm reading up on medieval gynecology and Italian history. I may wind up with a book no one wants to buy (what? another damned Italian fantasy? pfui!) but it won't leave me alone, and the books that follow me down dark alleys are generally the ones I want to write.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Of Dogs and Guitars

I have to preface this by noting: I really like dogs. The reason for the preface will become clear further on.

Last summer Younger Girl requested the chance to learn to play the guitar. Begged, in fact. We told her it would not always be fun. We told her she would be required to practice. We also mentioned that she was expected to put two years into the project before she would be allowed to butterfly in some other direction. She begged and we said sure.

About two months ago she started showing signs of unrest. For the last month getting her to practice has been a misery. In the last week she has declared that she is quitting guitar, and selectively rewritten history to suggest that Spouse was the one who forced her to play guitar. What is irritating about all this (aside from the general irritation of having to deal with her high-verbal stubborn argument) is that she's really quite good. But she's at the beginning of learning, and despite her teacher giving her cool stuff to work on, it's not all blistering Rock Goddess solos.

This morning, yet another confrontation. She tried all the same arguments--forced to study guitar ("I wanted to learn piano!"--well, she never mentioned that to anyone); fifteen minutes of guitar practice takes up too much of her time; we are mean (well, yes. Part of the job.) Me, I don't care if she learns to play guitar (Spouse, who has always felt that his parents didn't push him hard enough to stay with the musical instrument he studied--bassoon!--does care very much). But every time YG gets enthused about something, should I invest time and money and then let her drop it?

And here is where the Dogs come in. YG wants a dog. Going to the SPCA is like going to FAO Schwartz for her. And she keeps swearing that she will be responsible and take care of it and... I think Spouse is afraid that if I have to be responsible for one more living thing I will rise up and slay legions in my path. I think that is perhaps an overstatement. However, the girl's track record for follow-through is not splendid. And she's nine, so my expectatations of an immediate change in this are not high (I should note here that someone gave my family a dog when I was six; my mother decided, after six weeks, that she couldn't cope, and she gave the dog away. When I got my dog I was very clear on what would happen if I didn't take care of the dog). So there has been a certain amount of ambivalence about adding a canine to the family.

So we have struck a deal. Adopting a puppy from the local SPCA costs (after the training class, vet bills, etc.) about $300. Every time YG practices her guitar I will put one dollar in an envelope (already labelled "DOGGY MONEY"). That should get her through a year of guitar, anyway. I foresee many trips to the SPCA this year. And some backsliding, too.