Friday, March 30, 2007

And Now for Something Completely Different

It's a sad day when you pull your poetry recommendations from television. But there we go. I'm a mother, a freelance writer, and I accept my poetry however it chooses to get to me.

This is the full version of the poem quoted by Eddie Izzard at the end of the first episode of The Riches.

[This one's for you, sweets, for all the obvious reasons, including the fact that Eddie performed it.]

William Stafford's "A Story That Could Be True"

If you were exchanged in the cradle and
your real mother died
without ever telling the story
then no one knows your name,
and somewhere in the world
your father is lost and needs you
but you are far away.

He can never find
how true you are, how ready.
When the great wind comes
and the robberies of the rain
you stand on the corner shivering.
The people who go by--
you wonder at their calm.

They miss the whisper that runs
any day in your mind,
"Who are you really, wanderer?"--
and the answer you have to give
no matter how dark and cold
the world around you is:
"Maybe I'm a king."

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Because I Can't Stop Now

From the Nation :

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful," Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told the British magazine New Scientist, "because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex." Raise your hand if you think that what is keeping girls virgins now is the threat of getting cervical cancer when they are 60 from a disease they've probably never heard of.

I was 36. But you know, semantics.

NPR Promo

I just heard a promo for an upcoming program on NPR about the HPV vaccine. In the very brief spot, they offer a program appetizer of what sounds like a teenage girl asking, "Do you want me to get the vaccine?" And what sounds like her mother responding, "Well, would that make you think you had a clear light to have sex?"


I'm not quite sure how to unpack this. Are there people out there who are thinking, "Yes, sex causes cancer! Now my daughter definitely won't have sex. Ever."

Folks, we're talking about a vaccine for HPV, a virus that can lead to cervical cancer. So in some very real ways we're talking about a cure for cancer. And this soundbite is concerned that we're ripping the fear out of sex, and thereby giving full reign for adolescents to just go after it. Like in cars. Like before they're married. This--this--is the thing that will give them the permission to fornicate that they've so earnestly searched for.

Forget the hormones. So overrated.

As a not-entirely-intact, so-far survivor of cervical cancer, I think mom is missing a point. To understate. Honey, get the vaccine, so when that day comes when you're not afraid of sex or babies, when you actually really, really want both, you can have them.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Frak Me

Sam? The Chief? Colonel Tigh?


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Portrait of an Artist as a Three-and-a-Half Year Old Boy

This post is long overdue. (And just plain long.) I shall remedy that oversight and overdewiness forthwidthit.

First, you must understand that the following statement carries no bias, no traces of fierce pride of parenting. It is said with honesty, with carefully observed scrutiny, and using the powers of analysis that I hold as a published art critic.

My son is a frakking art genius.

And after three years of studious art making, it's damn well time we present to the world his first retrospective.

So here I offer you, the birth and evolution of an Artist. (Notice the capital "A." I don't capitalize willy nilly. I apply that not with hippy liberalism, although I have been endowed with lovely, curvy hips, but with compassionate conservativism.)

Finn is a deliberate artist. Since his earliest encounters with pen and paintbrush--his artistic tools of choice--he has always held them gingerly, resting them in the crook between his forefinger and thumb, never full-hand gripping them with the violent passion of most toddlers.

He works in phases, exploring media and technique until he has utterly exhausted their allure. First, it was pens, then paints, markers, pencils, playdoh, and most recently he has returned to pens--this time branching out into red gel--in what we call his Blood Phase. He has dabbled in crayons, but never fully committed. I suppose the quality waxes too uneven. And crayons are just so common, aren't they?

His first notable study of color and form came in his Circus Period (ca. 2004/5). He had been applying thick swabs of paint to large pieces of butcher paper, crawling and walking around it, exploring all its edges from nearly every perspective. That kinetic dance of paint left him besmeared. And he never looked back.

We'd strip him down to his diaper, and let the happiness in.

Arms, tummy, calves, thighs, feet--Finn would end up totally covered in paint (notably one of the only times he'd work with multiple colors on one "canvas")--and come out the other side looking like a top candidate for the cover photo Bradbury's Illustrated Man (or the more popular and current Ink).

His gross motor skills turned fine in his American Flag Period (ca. 2005/6). And I have evidence of its exhaustive exploration in more than half of my Moleskine. He drew in journals, mine mostly, stitching and looping delicate lines. He called it his American Flag. We still can't figure out why. I would describe it as curvaceous grids. He'd start with a Rubenesque circle and then cascade semicircles, tiny and large off that central form.

His Neoclasssical Period spun off of those first explorations in form. He started coloring in his "flags," drew his first rocketship, and then promptly moved to coloring books. Here, he was more concerned about mastering form than about bold applications of color. Marvel Superheroes, Superdog and friends, All-Star Sports, Spiderman--all these books reveal, page after page, a deliberate application of just one color, markers, sometimes crayons, often pen that, uncharacteristic for his age and without urging from us, stayed within the lines. This, to date, marks his most profilic creations.

Finn then took a break from these flat fields of deliberate color and moved to scultpure--legos, playdoh, and puzzles--and even dabbled in a little performance art, a tribute to his Circus Period. In hindsight, this detour pushed his boundaries of self-expression and creativity, getting him off of the page and on the stage. He traveled inward, and like the Romantics who rebelled against the didactic forms of their Neoclassical brothers, he broke out of the lines and into the realm of pure color and emotion.

In Finn's Albers Phase, he moved away from the big sheets of butcher paper and the formula of color books to small sheets of notepaper, scraps of napkins, anything that would hold pigment. He'd chose one color--purple, red, yellow, brown, something bold--and cover the paper with it, leaving just a little white space at the margins. From those bold and uniform applications of colors, he immediately went minimal: just a line, just a curve, just a thought. Delicate, always deliberate, and expressive of his attempt to lose or find control in a single mark.

But not even that would contain him, for the past two days, Finn has returned to the pen. He's kept the boldness--red gel--but returned to the scrutiny of what can only be described as a culmination of his artistic expressions.

He's even more meticulous, yet even more brazen with his red gel, bleeding his color into forms and onto paper, claiming the violence of his toddler years and yet tempering them with restrained (com)passion.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Why, Hello There

I just found out yesterday that I have a reader. So allow me to give a little shout out to my new and dearest best friend:

Hi Reader! Bienvenue! I shall have a cupcake in your honor.

Word Whore

I am a freelance writer. I've been peddling the Great Big Alphabet since about 2003, right about the time we had Finn and I decided that being with my son was a bit more important than running copies in suburban Kansas.

Don't get me wrong--I liked my job and I loved my boss. (Probably the best boss I've ever had. Very intuitive, very smart.) But there was just this one little nugget of xeroxin' not-fun in the job description, and each time I confronted the copier--at least once a week for several hours at a time--the guilt just got overwhelming. Finally, I had to throw in the toner and head home, fingers crossed that I could make a go of writing for a living.

As any freelancer will tell you, there are ups and downs, feast or famine. It's oftentimes a lonely, quiet world (except for the ambiance provided by screaming toddler).

But it's a challenge. Every job, whether it's a marketing brochure, newsletter, magazine article, annual report or Web site, is a puzzle and a little piece of poetry. And smabmouth love her some puzzlin' and poetryin'.

I say all this as a way of introducing my newest label--Lanced and Loaded--and as an explanation for some bloggin' to come, wherein (there it is) I will discuss the supreme fun of the working-in-pajamas life and offer you, or dear buyer of the Great Big Alphabet, some suggestions for how to raise and nurture your very own freelance writer.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Survival Rate

This time last year I was in the hospital.

I had just recovered from what has to be my worst nightmare--a squatty imp was sitting on my chest suffocating me, an image straight out of Fuseli's Night Mare--only to wake up and find that I had just survived, or maybe I was still living through, my worst nightmare.

Earlier that year, at the top of 2006, I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. It looked easy enough to manage at first, but then proceeded to scare the shit out of me as a conization turned into a radical hysterectomy. We had just spent the past year trying to have our second child. Miscarriage after miscarriage was frustrating enough. Now, this, My Cancer, would put an end to that.

This time last year, I was mad that I couldn't have more children, that we didn't catch this earlier, that I could die from this--and that the doctor who came in that morning for his rounds with his gaggle of grinning interns just smiled at me while I cried.

This time last year, I didn't know if there would be a this time next year.

I don't know how I feel about this anniversary. I thought I'd be happy, elated, cupcaking it through the rest of the week. I'm alive and cancer free after all. But I guess I still have some that ol' bitterness about. I don't know that I particularly like feeling grateful about being alive. I thought old age and the first hints of death would sneak up on me through bad vision and knees. I might have preferred just being oblivious.

And I'm suspicious of good news, of all-clears. Just because I made it through this year, just because it was "just cervical cancer," that doesn't mean I'll make it through the next. Even though the cancer is gone, it still echoes.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Ides of March

March 15 comes only once a year.

In this year's wake comes a new season of Buffy and a new art review. Joss Whedon and your local comic book shop will have to supply the Buffy.


But I got you covered on my art review.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Berating the Yet

I'm not sure what the rules are here. After I post my blog entry for the week, or month, can I edit it? Can I go in a tinker with a couple of things? Rethink my analysis of life's trivialities? Add question marks to questions? Fix my spelling errors?

I really don't know. It seems to me that grammatical nips and tucks should be fine. They make me look more intelligent and allow those two lucky folks who are reading this to understand me and continue to be my friends.

But other than that, I think it should be off limits.

For example. Last entry, I do believe I used the word "yet" twice in a sentence and at least three times in a given line. I yetted about all willy nilly, posturing my Englishified conjunction, wielding it gracelessly and, let's admit it, carelessly.

Should I get the chance to rewrite? To pose another conjunction?


The abuse of yet reveals me. My love of conjunctions, my desire to be connected to the world, my tendency toward overdramatization. And that should stand as a testimony to me, to who I am at this moment, to how I engage with language and how I present myself to you, dear reader 1 and reader 2.

And yet.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

I Like Cupcakes

A lot. I even like cupcake sketches on Saturday Night Live. That's the convinction I carry. That's how much I believe.

Cupcakes have a level of individuality, a bite-sized yet committed yet impassioned attitude toward life. They aren't afraid of icing it up, and yet get to wear cute little skirts. It's that blend of exuberance, even frivolity mixed with unnecessary modesty. That is the cupcake and that's what I love.

We have a rather newish cupcake store near downtown. Whenever I walk in, the clerk calls me Red. (Point.) They pimp out cupcakes I've never even thought of before (and now watch my lack of imagination run free): mint chocolate, lemon with lemon butter icing, red velvet, chocolate on chocolate (I have thought of that before, my unoriginality does know bounds), and then, cupcakes with peanut butter, dulce de leche, pineapple icing on top of delectable, small-pored cakes that remind you of pumpkins, orange dreamsicles, carrots, bananas.

You knowthe test for gelato, right? Check on the banana. If it's yellow, you move on. Banana gelato, if it's fresh and made from real bananas, should be gray.

Well, my test of cupcake rests with the strawberries. Find the cupcake with strawberry icing, distract the clerk by throwing a stick, stepping on his toe, whatever it takes, and stick your finger in the icing. It should look pink (the icing, that is) and taste like strawberries (icing-coated finger). If it doesn't, if you can put an adjective other than strawberry-ie, move on. Or wash your hands.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Little Nervous

I could safely say that I spend most of my days like this. Anxiety just sticks to me like toilet paper to the bottom of a slightly wet shoe. It's my thing. Can't shake it off.

Part of it's my fault. I chose to be a freelance writer and that's fraught with all kind of anxiety. I'm lucky that I haven't had to spent a lot of time wondering where my next job is going to come from (knock on birch-paneled Ikea table) but I have spent a fair amount of time stressing over checks that are a few weeks too late, deadlines that loom like large pregnant clouds, and finicky servers that deliver my e-mail when they damn well please, thank you very much.

But today is ultraworryspecial, and I don't feel free to tell you why, but I can give a little history of why January-through-March is the cruelest quarter.

For the past three years, my little corner of the world has celebrated the first 90 days out of the year with a variety of ailments that work the full range of severity: mailbox tipping, mutinous cars, hospital-worthy croup, excessive bleeding from one nose, high fevers, colonoscopies, colpscopies, pneumonia, cancer. (Well, that certainly took the fun out of this paragraph.)

It's enough to make a girl a bit paranoid about launching a new year.

My theory here, rather than jinx myself into another installment of the First Quarter Curse, is to dissuade it from descending--and especially tomorrow--to reduce its powers of evil by painting its nefarious overbrowed face on the cave wall and throwing spears at it. To name it, Rumpelstiltskin, and take away its mystery and sway. To call it out in the street at high night and whomp its bony butt.

Or I could just throw metaphors and literary allusions at it until it gets bored of my highfalutin antics and saunters off to plague another house.

Anyway. That's my plan.