Saturday, July 31, 2010


A dear friend, one who is far more perceptive than I, told me this weekend that I had a chameleon's fear of new ideas. He told me that I champion the traditional and fight the spread of modernization because to the practiced chameleon, new ideas mean new roles to take on, and the new roles get exhausting. Or, alternatively, that I yearn myself to be one simple villager in one simple village, with only simple choices to make--and know I never can be, and so wish to "save" others from the onus of sophistication.

This observation was a timely one, as many of my tidily compartmentalized worlds have come crashing together of late, leaving me reeling and wondering if all that compartmentalization was such a great idea after all.

What the heck am I talking about? Well. Right now I have about four lives running simultaneously. There is the "mother" life, which is just as it sounds, me taking care of my children and not really doing much else. I do not visit with friends in this role, I do not date in this role, I do not work in this role. Then there is my "girlfriend" life-- a relatively new one in which I travel, hike, go out to dinner, wear frilly underthings, and skew everything positively. My children, past, and darker emotions are not allowed to surface in this life. Then there is my "career" life---the articles I write, the tutoring I do, the pen names (see? secret lives within secret lives!), the scholarly pursuits. No boyfriend here. No kids. And definitely no frilly underthings. Lots of friends though, and socializing. Finally, there is my "real" life. That's what I call it to myself, though oddly it hasn't had much to do in the past 10 years or so. This is the me that runs around in the wilderness, travels the world, plays guitar, doesn't care what others think, and is vitally, intrinsically sure of herself and her place in the world.

Each of these lives has a different wardrobe, a different vocabulary, a different set of friends, even a different ethical system. I dress for the day depending on which role I will be playing. When everything is tripping along smoothly, my chameleon system works great. I can utterly devote myself to my children's needs without resentment because I know my "girlfriend" time will be coming up. I can write coldblooded articles about the necessity of not having children in an overpopulated world because the "mother" is nowhere to be seen in my "career" role. And whenever I feel emptiness or sorrow or a lack of fulfillment I can simply shift gears and put off dealing with it for a while. Or infinitely.

The thing is, lately it has begun to feel a lot like lying. I can sense that my boyfriend knows there is more to me than what I allow him to see, and that it makes him uncomfortable. I have found my life as a mother seeping into my writing, and my "real" life knocking constantly at the door, wanting to be let back in to my current life. If there were only room for her.

But isn't there? Other people seem to manage it. It seems so simple for them. They just ARE--their full selves, everything integrated--and that's all there is to it. Their children and their old friends and their careers are seamlessly united into one cohesive, coherent life. They never have to stop and think about what to say, or how much to reveal.

I suspect that my rampant compartmentalization is a kind of coping mechanism; a looong, baaaad relationship will do that. Naturally I want to forget that this looong baaad relationship ever took place, and so it gets tucked away. And so does the girl who made the decision to be in it.

In the end, though, when I do that I am complicit in the denigration of that girl. It is tantamount to a declaration of my embarrassment that she ever existed. So I am left with a lurking feeling of shame, and secrecy. Hardly the way to kick a bad relationship to the curb, is it?

So I am embarking on a quest for cohesiveness. This is not going to be easy. I am REALLY good at playing roles and I suspect that pretty soon the search-for-cohesiveness is going to end up as yet another role I step into from time to time. But the thought of not having secrets from anyone--of being able to speak openly about anything, in any situation--is a luminously magnetic one. And I suspect that I am not as opaque as I think. I suspect that, when I finally get past my fear and take off the masks, my children and friends and coworkers will simply shrug and say "Damn. It was about time."

Sunday, July 25, 2010

nothing to whine about.

Apparently that means I don't write. Something to look into.

Yesterday the boys and I caught an early bus to Malibu and wandered all day at little-boy-pace through Solstice canyon. Not once did I say "hurry up, the frozen foods are melting!" or "get down from there, you'll break something" or "could you please move it, we're late!" In fact, I was blessedly quiet. We caught tadpoles, built frog houses in the stream (and caught a frog to try one out--he liked it, but it's a buyer's market and we couldn't get him to commit), found a snakeskin and a real live snake, followed the tracks of deer high up into the hills until we found the deer themselves, splashed under waterfalls, collected rocks, got wet and cold and muddy and scraped up and bruised and giddy, threw pebbles into the water for HOURS, were dinosaurs for a little while, were happy. Riding home on the bus, my filthy, soaked, and contented boys snugged against me, Xir said: "I always want to be in the wilderness. That was the best day of my life."

I had one of those moments where I woke up and realized that this is LIFE. I looked into his eyes--this person, my son--and really smiled at him, wanting to remember this moment. And then he looked back at me and said:
"You are the thing that makes me love people."

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

two questions

1) how is it that one single glass of milk can be spilled such that the entire mattress, both pillows, all the bedding, the computer, the digital camera, the freshly folded basket of just-washed laundry, AND the entire dinner (pizza) get soaked through?

2) what did i do to deserve a day so perfect, so wondrously fun and free and interesting, that my only reaction was to laugh?

Sunday, July 11, 2010


crawling into a leaf shelter at a survival class: the scent of the leaves, the settling of dust, the small discomfort of scratching twigs send me reeling back to my twenties, living in a leaf shelter in the woods. it takes hours to realign myself with who i am now.

having bundled the boys into their father's car, i put on the punk rock and hustle through housecleaning, beating the rug raw with a broom and even sowing the floors with baking soda to be swept up later. i tuck away all evidence of children, light incense, and stride off to do the shopping. returning home: my sweet-smelling hideaway, mine and mine alone (for a day anyway), reminds me of my love for small spaces.

after banishing xir to the backyard for hitting anainn, i hear a plaintive knock at the door. it is repentant xir, who marches over to anainn and kisses him on the head, then opens his hands to reveal dozens of peas he's carefully picked and shelled for his baby brother.

sitting around a fire for my friend's birthday, trying very hard to be respectful of the "shamanic journey" we are supposedly on, shaking like a leaf with suppressed giggles. i allow the circle to believe that i am overcome with emotion, not amusement.

cycling in the twilight down la cienaga, the cars rush by like rapids, nearly on top of me. i murmur to myself over and over that i couldn't possibly die yet, my children would turn out too weird.

looking deeply into my eyes, the boy i met in the deli asks me if i will "be his girlfriend".

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

clueing in.

I have spent a disproportionate amount of time these past few weeks feeling extremely annoyed and put-upon at the ebullient antics of my boys. "Aren't I supposed to be enjoying this?" I ask myself as I mop up yet another spilled cup of milk, scrub marinara sauce from the increasingly-dingy walls for the seven-thousandth time, call out "STOP TORMENTING YOUR BROTHER" through the window as I frantically try to finish the dishes before someone gets maimed.

There are no soft-focus gold-tinged scenes in which we chuckle lovingly at each other while paging through an educational book. No cozy pitch-and-catch in the park accompanied by life lessons and adoring smiles. The most frequent expression on my five-year-old's face, in fact, is the eye-roll: which, I am learning in my psychological research, is the CLASSIC sign of contempt and a danger signal in any relationship.

It finally hit me this afternoon: might the size of the space in which we're living have something to do with my short fuse? I mean, as I was growing up, I remember long summer days spent sequestered in the downstairs "playroom", in which stupendous messes could be made without affecting even in the slightest the adult world going on peacefully above. My mother could, and did, frequently retreat into her OWN ROOM (with a door that shut!) for a NAP in the afternoon. When my parents' friends came over I remember being shooed upstairs so that they could have an adult conversation. Wow. What is an adult conversation, I wonder, as I contort myself into a pretzel shape beside the bathtub to try and work out a mediation agreement without the boys overhearing. (It's futile, of course. Anainn toddles in to toss my jewelry in the tub while I'm distracted and Xir announces that he has to "make a scat".)

But wait---what about all of those vaunted "other cultures" that have lived this way, as I've crowed countless times, "for thousands of years"? Well, I did a little looking into that this afternoon. It turns out, the cultures that live in a single-room dwelling don't actually spend all that much time there. Even the Inuit are out hunting a majority of the time. Those single-room dwellings are, primarily, a sleeping space. And it's more difficult to get annoyed with somebody when you're asleep (though I've managed it a couple of times.)

But also, in places with severe winters that could crowd an entire family into those cute little cubbies for the season, I found that most families/communities had a compound of rooms. That is, the adults went one place. The kids went another. Often the kids were put in a room with an abundance of work (grain that needed threshing, hides that needed tanning, fiber that needed spinning, etc.) and left to their own devices.

I didn't know this. I always pictured kids tagging after the adults, silently and respectfully learning all there was to know before gracefully carrying on the tradition with stoic non-eye-rolling faces. Ha. Nope, turns out, the natives weren't all that enamored of the kiddies' antics either. Shut 'em all up in a room to climb the walls while they drank the local brew and played cards, is what it sounds like.

So what can I learn from all of this? Like it or not, this is the situation, and I'm not ready to trade a high overhead for a bit more breathing room. At least not yet.

I think what I need to do is plan a lot of camping trips. Spend long days in the park. Construct a small room of twigs and brush, fill it with needlepoint, and shut my kids inside it.

Or, somehow, learn patience. I've always meant to. Now seems like the perfect time.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tea party.

The mist of rain that we woke to has been an incredible gift. It's been a lazy, dreamy day, building castles of legos and baking peanut butter coffee cake and lighting candles for a dress-up tea party (though I'm the only one who likes to play dress-up in my house. Someday I'll have a little girl...or the meantime I am creating children who are not aggressively gender-identified. Ha.)

However, I plan to extend this tea-party joy outward. What day would work for you-all? I am thinking a late afternoon/evening thing, high tea in my backyard with gloves and crustless sandwiches and scones. A bit of catching up and trash talking is overdue, no?

Sunday, July 4, 2010

pressing questions.

what I want to know is:

why is it, exactly, that I don't live in Big Sur?

why does a toddler sleep through the entire crashing finale of a fireworks show but wake instantly the moment he arrives home and you want to sleep?

is there no one on earth who can keep up with me on a hike through the mountains?

who invented needlepoint, and WHY?

will SMC ever offer a psychology class that doesn't mysteriously fill up BEFORE it is even opened for registration?

is it okay to fall in love with someone when you know that you would just complicate their life beyond recognition?