Entries in Light the Corners of My Mind (31)


Poetic Mercy

I've been having a grand time with Radioactive Jam's Titanium Haiku Contest. It brings back sweet memories of adolescence; I'll sketch a couple of scenes for you.

In eighth grade I had a friend named Monica. We were in the G&T program together; in California in the late 70s, "Gifted & Talented" meant "tons of field trips." It was excellent. Our most frequent destination was the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where we saw a boatload of Shakespeare and other great plays.

On the bus rides from and back to Rancho Cordova, Monica and I collaborated on a very specific subgenre of poetry. We had studied "The Raven" early in the year, finding Poe's meter of choice compelling to the point of addiction. Monica and I took turns writing stanzas about whatever occurred to us. Monica was obsessed with the TV show "Dallas." Many of her verses speculated on the marital strife between Pam and Bobby and what kind of evil conspiracy the Cartel really was.

I, not being allowed to watch "Dallas," had no such bounteous muse, but I found plenty of fodder in hot topics such as:

Whether Mr. Scimemi Hates Me Specifically or All Students Generally;
The Comparative Merits of a Hostess Cherry Pie or a Lemon Pie for Lunch;
Would I Have Made Frodo Female, Had I Written The Lord of the Rings; and
Will Ian R. Ever Return My Affections?

Here's a sample of Monica's work:

While J.R. employs his cunning, poor Sue Ellen sits out sunning,
Hoping for her tan to bring her new love through the open door--
But at South Fork, many worries: This affair will bring more flurries!
Cliff should really try to hurry, take his Sue away before
J.R. finds out their betrayal, calls his Beauty Queen a whore!
Quoth Miss Ellie, "Nevermore!"

And mine:

While I sit here, hoping, dreaming, Ian doesn't know my scheming,
How I try to catch his fancy, make him mine forevermore.
Two-faced Heather looks so trashy. How can Ian find her flashy?
Can't he see I'm so much smarter? How in common we have more?
Both of us like books like Tolkien's. He must know I'm not a bore.
My love cuts me to the core.

Chief among our challenges were finding new, workable rhymes for 'nevermore.' Our poems were a sort of group therapy; the bonus was that I stayed in the loop on the hippest TV gig of the decade, a key to social success in junior high.

Three years later, my Debate and Reader's Theater partner, Jim Orlando, was one of my best (read: only) friends. Traveling to and from Speech and Debate Tournaments, Jim and I kept stage fright at bay by composing outrageous blues verses. These were in A-B-B-A (not the supergroup), call and response form:

Jim: Really late last Saturday night-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.

Luisa: Joanie and me, we had a fight-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.
She told me my speech was bad-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.

Jim: I gave her a slap like she'd never had-nah nah na-na-na naaaah-nah.

...ad infinitum.

The key to this game was coming up with a perfectly scanning and rhyming line to the one first set out without any kind of pause. The scat breaks gave us a little extra time to think. Beats could be subdivided, if necessary. We never got tired of this, and it had the added advantage of keeping us mentally in sync; that year the two of us went to State Championships in the Model Congress event.

My takeaway on these images of versifications past? A) I'm a doggerel junkie; and B) road trips seem to be conducive to inspiration. Next time I feel any writer's block, I'm heading for the parkway.


What Other Shoe?

One of my favorite parenting stories involves my sister, her first husband, and their son, Sam. Going home from some social event, Bill turned to Angie and asked, "Do you think it makes other people sad that their kids aren't as cute as Sam?"

I've smiled about that anecdote for years. It seems that every parent secretly (or not) feels that his or her child is superlative--although speaking semi-objectively, Sam was the most adorable baby ever. Until Christian came along, that is.

After a somewhat colicky start in life, Christian came into his own as a sweet, funny, precociously verbal child. We spent all day, every day together, and I don't remember ever getting tired of his companionship. As if he knew that one of the ways to my heart was through books, he would remain entranced as I read aloud to him for literally hours on end. Sometimes I'd get hoarse because we'd been reading for so long. When I was busy with other things, he'd sit happily with a big stack of books at his side, making his way through them over and over again.

Like many little boys, he had a deep love for trucks of all sorts. A highlight of his week was garbage pick-up day. He would perch on top of the radiator cover in front of his bedroom window and look down at the garbage truck picking up our apartment building's trash. Load, load, crash, grind: this was a show that never got old. Once, at a dinner party, he told a friend of ours, "I want to be a garbage man when I grow up. My parents think that's funny."

Christian was able to relate to people of all ages, initiating conversation with strangers and putting them at ease. He had so many interests that he had something in common with nearly everyone. He never got tired of trips to the "Dinosaur Museum" or the "Pyramid Museum." He had names for the various playgrounds we frequented in Central and Riverside Parks: "Volcano," "Pirate," "Turtle," "Hippo." His joy and enthusiasm for life were infectious.

Through his early life, I kept telling myself that this couldn't last. I braced myself for the pre-pubescent and teen years, when surely our friendship would be put on hold for at least a decade. I know it's still early (and I'm knocking on all kinds of wood), but at thirteen-and-a-half, Christian remains delightful.

He cheerfully does whatever I ask of him, from practicing the piano to changing Daniel's diaper. He is close to his siblings, who bask in his kindness and attention. He bears his infrequent punishments with good grace and apologizes sincerely and promptly when he has made a mistake. He is thrilled for the success of others and can laugh at himself, two signs of humility that I prize highly. Does he have flaws? Oh, yes. But you won't hear about them from me. He knows what they are, and we see him working to remove them.

Christian and I are excited about our birthday month. Patrick, foxy saint that he is, is sending us off to the World Fantasy Convention in November, which will be held in exotic Saratoga Springs this year. We're excited that some of our favorite writers will be there and that the theme is right up our geekified alley; I anticipate a great weekend with one of my very best friends.

My definition of a blessing is this: something that turns one to God. In this light, anything from a found five-dollar bill to a lifetime of hardship is potentially a blessing. If you use your money or AI-worthy voice or mad nunchuck skills to bring more light and peace into the world, and your character is refined thereby, then those things are a blessing to you. If not....well, consider turning to God.

Christian is a blessing to me. I am absolutely not fishing here: I take zero credit for his goodness. He came to us that way. If I had a doubt that Wordsworth's "Ode to Immortality" was inspired, Christian dispells it. He has taught this Olympic-class grudge holder to be slower to anger and quicker to forgive. He reminds me to be free with hugs and smiles. He appreciates my creative endeavors in any form. He follows the example of his amazing father by standing up for truth and his friends fearlessly. He helps me get closer to being the person I dream of being. And I thank God for him every single day.


Interesting Times

Here I am with Mom, leaning against the bumper of Dad's antique car somewhere near our apartment in Hollywood. Mom is visibly pregnant with Stephanie, which means this photo dates from mid-1968. Check out the bumper sticker: that was for Bobby, not his big brother (though we are fans of his, too). Bobby was assassinated in June of 1968 in Los Angeles; I can't imagine what it must have been like for my parents, having their political hopes stolen away in such violent fashion.

I thought about two of RFK's many memorable quotes last night. Here is the first one:

Whenever men take the law into their own hands, the loser is the law. And when the law loses, freedom languishes.

Patrick and I normally have our Date Night on Thursdays. But last night was the monthly Town Board Meeting in our little corner of the world, and a pressing concern of ours was on the agenda. We forewent the pleasures of romance in favor of civic duty.

Our library, which is private, has survived for a long time on a very small endowment supplemented by yearly gifts from the town. While in past years this Board has been generous in response to the library's growing needs as overhead and circulation have increased, the library hoped the community would support a guaranteed budget in order to meet its expenses with a little less stress. The voters agreed; last November, a referendum regarding funding for our town's library was passed.

To date, however, the Board has refused to give the library the budgeted money. This has been met with disbelief and outrage on the part of the library and its patrons and has elicited many letters to the editor of our tiny newspaper. Several citizens came to last night's meeting with prepared statements in support of the library; others were there with questions for the Board Members.

Patrick was one of the latter, and thank heaven he's such a gifted litigator. Emotions were generally running high last night, but under Patrick's genteel yet persistent questioning, along with that of a neighbor, the whole story began to come out.

It now seems clear to us that the Board never thought the referendum would pass, since it called for a 120% increase over gifts in previous years. When it did pass, the shocked and embarrassed Board realized it wouldn't have the money this year and began casting about for a way out.

An exit strategy was formulated by a lawyer hired by the Board, who, after digging around for a while, discovered that a technicality had been overlooked in the election. Public notice of the referendum must be published by the County Board of Elections in the local paper twice before Election Day; the B of E unfortunately only published notice once. As a result, according to the Town's lawyer, the election results were null and void. The Board has refused to fund the library based on this man's opinion.

The B of E certified the election despite its oversight regarding notice, and during the 30-day window allowed by law, neither the Town nor any private citizen contested the legality of the election or the results. Therefore, the library feels the referendum should stand and that the funds should be disbursed. The library has now had to hire a lawyer to bring a suit against the Town; its funding now lies in the hands of a judge.

Also clear to us last night was that a lot of this furor could have been avoided with a little humility on the part of the Town Board. A simple apology and a plea for time to work out the problems could have worked wonders with the library's staff. Instead, the Town Supervisor has been on the attack, citing the small percentage of voters who voted either way on the referendum as proof that the library was trying to put something over on the town's population.

The library, however, ran several full-page ads in the paper, much larger than the four-line legal notice the B of E was required to run. Signs were up in supporters' yards; the library had flyers available at its front desk detailing the particulars of the referendum. Of the approximately 10,000 residents of our town (I don't know how many are registered, voting adults), about 4,000 voted last November. More than half of those voted one way or the the other on the referendum, a statistic consistent with typical election results.

The Town Supervisor got more than a little self-righteous, saying that he represents all 10,000 residents, not just those 'few' who voted in favor of granting the library's request. He expressed concern that their voices weren't heard in the election. If they had wanted to be heard, though, they could have driven the half mile to the fire station or the VFW and cast their ballot, don't you think?

One councilman complained that despite repeated requests, the library had not shown the Board its budget, again implying secrecy on the part of the library. While I think it was not a smart PR move by the library not to disclose its budget, it was not in violation of any law or requirement. Local governments, which hold the purse strings, can often censor the libraries' decisions, actions, and contents through simple lack of funding. I can understand why our library would want to retain its independence even as it increased its dependence on public funds.

We townsfolk were heard, mostly graciously, for two hours on the subject; the meeting concluded at 11:00 p.m. Though we were tired and frustrated, Patrick and I felt confident that the Board got our message. The library is important to us, an almost sacred space dedicated to knowledge and freedom of information. But more important is our right to vote and to have our vote respected, and our right to hold our elected officials accountable for their actions and decisions.

We'll wait to hear what the judge says, hoping that he'll rule in favor of the library. But if the Board's opinion is upheld, we'll work hard to get a new referendum up for consideration this fall. We'll get through the disappointment by keeping in mind the second RFK quote I remembered last night:

Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.


Museday--On Parties

I was clicking around the 5MfM Ultimate Blog Party yesterday when the big kids got home. Hope came into my office and asked what I was doing. When I told her, she asked, "Oooh, is it like a slumber party?" (How proud I was that she did not ask, "Oooh, is it, like, a slumber party?") Hope just turned eight, and for her, when it comes to parties, 'ultimate' always equals 'slumber.' Here she is with Tess at one of our at-home, family-only Slumber Parties. (It's all in the marketing, folks. And the curlers.)

My favorite party memory from childhood goes like this. It's Halloween, 1970, just four days shy of my fourth birthday. My mother is in the hospital with tiny new baby sister Angie, born just the day before. It's evening, and my dad comes to get my sister Stephanie (who has just turned two) and me from my mom's best friend's house. We go home and get into our pajamas. I remember that I had on a white flannel nightgown with pink rosebuds.

While Daddy is getting Steph dressed, the doorbell rings. For some reason, I answer it, and it's a bunch of trick-or-treaters, all at least three years older than I am; they are very tall. I call to my dad; he informs me we don't have any candy, but tells me to offer them each a doughnut.

I go get the box off the kitchen counter, open it, and hold it out to the kids, and they give me a look I've learned to recognize in the years since. It perfectly combines incomprehension and contempt in an open-mouthed sneer. Without a word, the trick-or-treaters turn as one and walk down the porch steps. I look down at the doughnuts and wonder why the kids didn't want them. They look fine to me.

I'm glad they don't take them, though, because then Daddy comes out carrying Steph, and the three of us go to the drive-in, watch 101 Dalmatians, and eat the doughnuts ourselves.

The black and white photo above is of Steph and me around that time. I wish it were in color so that you could fully appreciate the awesomeness that was my pink and green paisley coat. That coat was a party all by itself.


Beautiful Garden

Yes, it's St. Valentine's Day, but as usual, we're ignoring that fact. Assuming we still have electricity this evening, we plan to cosy up with the kids on the couch and watch an episode or two of Star Trek, then head to bed early and fall asleep watching the snow fall.

It's not that we're not romantic. It's just that a far better celebration waits in the wings: on the 16th, we'll celebrate 17 years of marriage.

Here's a photo of us that Patrick's brother Marc took outside the Salt Lake Temple. It was so cold that day that the rest of the family refused to go out in the weather for group pictures, so we braved the elements alone.

We've braved a lot of elements since: chronic illness, law school, law firms, not to mention the five forces of nature we brought into the world together. Patrick has made me either laugh or swoon every day (on great days, both) of the over 6,000 we've been married; that fact has gotten us through an awful lot. I'm keenly aware that not everyone gets to be married to his or her best friend; I wish I could share what we've got with the whole world.

Last Saturday, in his capacity as Bishop, Patrick officiated at the wedding of two members of our congregation. (The photo above is of the cake I made for the occasion.) In his counsel to the couple before he pronounced them husband and wife, he quoted a favorite song, one that has inspired us through the years:

We're neither wise, nor kind, nor good;

We'll do the best we know.

We'll build our house and chop our wood,

And make our garden grow, and make our garden grow.

Thanks, hon. It's a beautiful garden. I look forward to many more years working in it together.