Sunday, April 26, 2009

Going Once

I rolled into town on Friday, after a long day in the car with my little girl and our friend, Mr. Pepperidge Farm. Gotta love the goldfish. My philosophy on traveling with children is: I don't have one. I'm sort of an anything-goes mama if the trip is longer than three hours. Bring on the salty snacks and bags o'Skittles, litter the van with spent juice boxes, I don't care. I will endorse multiple screenings of the dread pirate Caillou, just please don't cry. Keep it down back there, because somebody up here's got a death grip on the steering wheel and there's no NPR affiliate in Appalachia, just lots of static and this positively belligerent preacher who, as part of his sermon, makes a noise like a karate chop about every three seconds. I don't know about you, but that is the kind of thing that can rattle a girl's nerves, especially when her horn doesn't work and there are semi-trucks encroaching from every possible angle. The karate cadence adds an element of impending doom I find totally unnecessary. NPR, though-it's soothing. Calm, I need to know delivered with a side of trivia. Yes, I know about the economy. I've heard about the swine and her flu, folks are dying on Craigslist, but please: tell me more about how climate change affects cheese. Seriously. That story was a driveway moment for me. A heaping-helping of what's going on. Just don't expect much from Carl Castle on the long haul between Knoxville and Lexington. I mean it.
But we got there-here. Another trip up I-75 with nary an accident. Good lookin' out, I say to God. Me and Randy Jackson. I am really thankful. It was a smooth ride. And the kid did okay a long as I interrupted whatever Roman Feast was going on in the back with the occasional round of I-Spy. I am always instructed to find something pink, which as you can imagine, is very difficult. I often spot a flamingo way in the distance, or a rogue Barbie doll in full princess attire by the side of the road, and of course she plays along so as not to hurt my feelings. I'm sure she'll grow up believing I'm either color-blind or insane, and let me tell you I-Spy is not the only reason.
Once we'd unloaded, there were hugs and bathroom breaks, then a decent Midwestern meal. I talked with my dad about not wanting to offend anyone with my blog, and whether or not I should report that after having been in town only five minutes, I could have sworn I'd seen Willie Nelson three times. And in each instance, it was a different person. What could this mean? He didn't have any thoughts on that-so I just went with it. The Midwest is an interesting place and I can't help but notice how it's different than anywhere I've been. Beautiful, stark, and so flat you can see for miles. People are transparent here-there are no layers of southern tradition to get in the way of seeing who they really are. For instance, if you're from Ohio, you don't go to the beach "just to get away", as is so often the case in the south. Granted, you can leave Atlanta at seven and be paying your cabana boy by noon, and families have second homes, etc. But still, it's just a sweep-of-the hand gesture down there, going to the beach. Just getting away. If you live in Ohio, you're pretty much land-locked and desperate. If you're beach-bound, you're going for the tan. In fact, I distinctly remember, in fourth grade, a girl I knew whose family had been planning a Florida trip for MONTHS. Maybe years. When Spring Break rolled around, they got together: aunts, uncles, cousins...all manner of relatives caravaned it down to the Sunshine State, and wouldn't you know, it rained. All week long. As each day passed, the tension of not having tanned grew in their hearts, until the hour of their departure was at last upon them. About three hours into their trek north, around lunchtime, the sun came out. And they were forced to strip down right there in the Long John Silvers parking lot and lay out. I mean lay out. My point is, somebody told that story with a straight face. An earnest face. That's transparency.
Anyway, here I am. I walked uptown to the Friday night auction about an hour before it closed. Stuff was going cheap, so I got a paddle and luxuriated, child-free, on the ancient folding chairs randomly outfitted with cushions someone was thoughtful enough to make about 25 years ago. The auction smells are pure decadence: freshly-popped popcorn and antiques. I love it. My grandmother sat beside me for a bit, and I was reprimanded by the auctioneer for gesturing with my paddle, which I guess I did several times, only not to bid, but to point out to my grandmother a hairdo that will live in infamy. It was like a wig, on top of a wig, with another hairdo made from real hair underneath. Styles like that are once in a lifetime. It made my evening. The auction ended, and it was dark when I made it home, and cool. Spring has not quite sprung here like it has in Georgia-the trees still look anxious, like maybe they won't be getting leaves this year-and there's got to be one last cold snap concealed somewhere in the forecast, I know it. But the grass is green, like Easter grass, and I can see every star.

Monday, April 20, 2009


A favorite author of mine once described her morning coffee ritual as the only way she could level the playing field between herself and her mind, going on to say that while she’d been asleep for eight hours or so, her mind had been pounding Americanos and, apparently, was ready to talk.
I don’t know what it is about this move that’s got me so scattered. Maybe it’s the act itself-the packing, labeling, purging-I’ve done it before, though--many times. I even boasted on the telephone to my mother that I could pack my entire house in one day if required, like if I had to go into hiding or something. Suddenly, everything seems harder--this time it’s more than a change of venue, we’re not just scooting to another neighborhood that more or less orbits around the same grocery store-we’re undergoing a total transformation-new state, new school, off-the-map-crazy career switch. Our lives are being altered forevermore and oh, the devilish details…Exciting, yes. Can I handle it? Maybe. I really believe these last few weeks here will be the most difficult, not just because of all the checklist stuff, all the choices and uncertainty and mayhem, but because I’m not firmly planted. Anywhere. The only thing I can compare it to is someone floating between the here and hereafter-not quite gone, but not really here. Maybe a less macabre way of describing it would be to quote the ever-illuminating Britney Spears: “I’m Not a Girl, Not Yet a Woman.” I’m in limbo, and for someone who considers herself somewhat of a Free Spirit, I’m no great shakes at limbo.
Mr. M came home from work early today, along with our boy-and the wonderful chaos that follows that kid like Pigpen’s dirt cloud on his heels. Upended book bag, shoes akimbo, AN ENTIRE SHEET OF SPIDERMAN TATTOOS FROM MY TUTOR--and of course, reports of wiggling teeth, urgent hunger, and another installment of what seems to be the way to spend recess in Kindergarten: playing Judge Judy. Consumed by the fervor of my six-year-old, I simultaneously fielded questions from the Mister about what I’d accomplished from The List, which wasn’t much. Meanwhile, our youngest emptied a bottle of Elmer’s on the table, because how can we be sure we had craft-time if there’s no mess to clean up afterward?
I heard my mind clear its throat.
We have a saying around here-when all that is undone starts pressing in, when the noise and pace become too much, one of us will look at the other and say-“time to take back the power”. Time to show ‘em who’s boss-make one bed, put some lip gloss on, pay your smallest bill, write the first thank-you note-neverminding it’s a year or four late. Just do something. Shake up the snow globe, resettle the dust or glitter or whatever it is that has gone stale and got you stuck. On occasion, a dance-off is required; sometimes, a few minutes on the trampoline are enough to get things going. I slipped off my shoes and walked outside.
Alone and jumping, I felt better. I could see. Winnie’s missing clogs, abandoned during last Sunday’s quest for the golden egg. A hawk, for just a few seconds, pausing on the farthest fencepost in our yard, then taking off in that show-offy hawk way. It really was lovely. Things got sorted out, mentally, cosmically-somehow. I jumped a while, making sure to check out my chain-smoking neighbor’s back yard, with the little dog, perfect grass, and manicured everything. That was never going to be me. Our landscape is wild-with the clematis tangled around itself, azaleas in various stages of undress, and a larger-than-life gardenia beneath our bedroom window about to unleash its fragrance on the whole neighborhood. A beautiful disaster- resplendent, reckless. Our neighbor looked pinched and unhappy; not to mention athsmatic, working that cell phone like a Vegas microphone. I went inside to find my sweet family--freshly tattooed, worn out from waiting for me. I can do this.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Dear Internal Revenue Service:

I haven't sent my check yet. I know, I know-penalties, perp walks, debtor's prison, baloney sandwiches. My future is bleak. But listen-I filed weeks ago, online, floating pages of gibberish across the cyberwaves into your loving e-hands. You were kind enough to accept my meticulously-prepared return (thanks be to Turbo Tax Deluxe), and for that I extend my sincere gratitude. Problem is, immediately after filing, a sense of relief so profound overcame me that I can barely remember anything since that moment. I know I wrote the check, put it in a pink envelope, and assigned it a place of prestige on our kitchen counter, which is to say I threw it on the ever-increasing pile of stuff I hadn't had time for yet. Grocery receipts, RSVP cards, a cap for a missing marker, expired coupons, a caterpillar made from pipe cleaners and macaroni-everybody has one of these, yes? A "hot spot", I've heard it called. Mine used to be relegated to a wire bin I'd carry from room to room, hoping to organize the thing as time allowed, but since we all know what the road to hell is paved with, it may not come as a big surprise that I mostly just added to it, creating a whole-house potpourri of clutter. A therapist once asked me if I thought the bin was a metaphor for my life, or at least my brain, and whereas before a modicum of pride may have prevented me from admitting the uncanny resemblance, I can now say quite candidly that not only did that mess of papers and projects and pages torn from magazines speak volumes about my mental condition, but now, having graduated from the bin and basically allowed myself run of the place, can I get my money back? Not from you, IRS, I mean for my, um...self-improvement sessions. Clearly, the bin-as-metaphor portion of the program didn't take, and with the interest I'm incurring for being late, now by a full four days, I'm going to need some more bank to buy you off. And again, IRS, to be clear, you know I would never deign to ask you for anything but a teeny bit more time, and maybe an ounce of understanding, because we've all been there, right? Well, maybe not you-I'm sure you're perfectly organized. You with your green eye shade and your ledger. Your countertops are uncluttered, your closet color-coded, and let's face it: you iron your underwear, sharp crease. Sigh. You wouldn't understand. But-and I mean this-it's okay. You just keep being who you are, and I'll go dig through the recycling, because sometimes, and this might seem crazy, I take an entire pile of papers and I recycle them. I don't even look to make sure there's nothing important hidden in there, like a sushi bar BOGO or letter from Ed MacMahon. I just chuck it, 'cause I'm a rebel. And who knows? I might find the check-I've found other stuff before, like a fifty-dollar bill, and everyone knows you can't recycle money! My point is, it'll turn up, so you can keep your expertly-pressed Dockers on. I would never deliberately hold out on you-remember 2001 when I forgot to send in all the forms? And then in 'o5 when I got everything in on time but neglected to sign on the dotted line? Oh, and last year, after I never got my refund, I had to call the delinquency department because, and I'm just a layperson here, that seemed appropriate given the fact that you were late? Misunderstandings, easily corrected. And by the way, I waived the interest on that last bit. Consider it a gift, or better yet, subtract it from whatever it is I owe you, and let's be friends again. Only, if we're going to be friends, can we talk about the pants......?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

I'm taking great pains to word this carefully, in the hope it doesn't sound like a resignation letter--but I keep coming back to "After much deliberation, I regret to inform you..." which, now that I think of it, reminds me of a certain bit of correspondence I got in fifth grade from Stone Soup regretting to inform me that the poem I wrote about my grandmother's attic was NOT going to be published in their children's literary magazine. To which I say, joke's on you, suckas 'cause my grandma didn't have an attic anyway; she lived in a mobile home in Florida. So anyway, I guess even then, the sentiment wasn't resignation as much as rejection, as in State of Georgia, we reject you and your balmy Februaries, your traffic jams, your dogwood trees and sweet tea. My husband and I are taking to I-75 and not stopping until we get there-Ohio, land of sub-zero temperatures and free babysitting. In a crazy moment of exTREME confidence that I pinky swear was not fueled by any illegal substances, we decided to go all Robert Frost on everyone and leave this beautiful place, our home for the last eight years, where I birthed (okay they were c-sections) my children and fell more in love with my husband. Atlanta-home of the Big Chicken, a recession-proof job, the best Goodwill on earth, and a boatload of friends who have loved me even at my most unlovable. We are taking the second road- bought a greenhouse, farm, and seven acres...yes we may have chickens, no I won't be sewing my own clothes. ComPLETE change, all around-terrifying, exciting, overwhelming. June 1st. More details to come, for now I have to solve a crisis involving an entire bag of M&M's, a plastic teapot of water, and a certain three-year old. xoxo