Monday, January 15, 2018

Random thoughts on January 15

When I was a kid, I always knew when it was Martin Luther King Day because it was the same day as my brother's birthday. In the 1970's in Connecticut, January 15th was a state holiday, so we always had off from school.

I liked Martin Luther King Jr. because he was the man who had a dream that black kids and white kids could someday be friends, and if you'd asked 8 or 9 or 10 year old me, I would've told you that it was a dream I fully agreed with. 

I'd seen the film Roots at the library in weekly installments. It was clear to me that slavery was evil and all of the white people who'd owned slaves were bad. But that was all in the past. And in the South. We, in the North, were completely blameless. When I was a kid in Connecticut we didn't talk about race. 

And it was really easy not to talk about race because the town I lived in was nearly all white.

It was an old factory town, mostly second or third generation immigrants from Poland and Italy, and with a sizable group of people from Puerto Rico. Many kids I knew spoke another language with their parents at home. The Catholic churches in town still held masses in the language of the people in the neighborhoods. Polish, Italian, Spanish. 

Not that we were always nice to each other. I heard people openly talk about Puerto Rican people using derogatory language, and everyone said you should steer clear of their neighborhoods. But no one thought of themselves as racist. That was something that only happened in the South. (See Roots, above.) 

When I was thirteen, I met a woman from the South and I eyed her suspiciously for signs of racism, but the woman seemed really nice and we all thought her Southern accent was darling. Okay, there was one incident when we were walking in the park, and she suddenly whisked her young daughter away and made the remark that maybe all of us were used to seeing "that kind of thing" but where she was from they weren't used to it. 

I had no idea what she was talking about, but later my mother told me that what upset the woman was a couple holding hands, a black person and a white person. 

This was a confusing moment because the woman seemed so lovely, and I didn't know what to make of it, so I filed it under: Weird Stuff People from the South Say, and forgot about it

until I went to college in the South. 

My college roommate first semester was black, and I was eager to show her that I was Not a Racist by never having a conversation with her about race, and by acting as if I didn't notice that I was white and she was black, hoping that she could see how Progressive and Open-Minded I was. Anyway, this was the 1980's, and even though we were going to school in the Deep South, racism was a Thing of the Past,

especially at our forward-thinking liberal arts college,

which, okay, true, like my Connecticut town, this college was mostly white. 

Also, most of the female students joined sororities, and it was an unspoken fact that black girls didn't belong to any of the sororities because it was against the sorority rules, 

although the story was that one sorority had pledged several black girls a few years before, but half of the white girls dropped out that year, which killed their membership numbers, and now that was sort of the meh sorority on campus. Anyway, the very few black girls at the college didn't bother going through Rush after that, including my roommate.

I did though, and my roommate and I pretended to each other that she just didn't want to Go Greek. She dropped out of school at the end of the year and I never saw her again.

Here's something I understand now that I didn't when I was growing up: lovely people can be racist. Some of them can even be from Connecticut.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Goal Setting at the Edge of the Earth

It's January, a new year, my usual time for looking ahead, making resolutions, setting my writing goals and other goals-- projects to tackle around the house and in the garden, resolving to eat better and exercise more and volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way, reading my poem a day and reading more, in general, and in a variety of genres.

I can go on and on with these goals, because I am a big believer in setting them, making lists, and tracking progress, all of which, I realize, lately, relies entirely on my faith in the future,

that I will be there, in the future

that there will be a future.

It's a scary realization, one that I haven't felt in a long time, but lately it's come back to me, how nothing is certain, how my fate-- how all of our fates-- are dependent on forces beyond our control, a feeling I understood instinctively when I was fourteen, fifteen, sixteen years old.

Back then I didn't have much faith in the future. I wasn't a big-time follower of the news, but a lot of it filtered into my head anyway, news about the arms race between our country and the Soviet Union, the Cold War amping up.

I watched the movies about nuclear war, The Day After and War Games, listened to music where rock stars wondered if the Russians loved their children too, read about downed airlines and uprisings in Eastern European countries, heard stories about nuns chaining themselves to fences outside nuclear weapons plants.

In the 1980's we were wise enough to know that if there was a nuclear war, no one was going to stumble out of it alive, and we mocked the deluded people of the 1950's who had disaster drills in schools, the kids told to hide under desks, as if cowering under a desk would save them.

I'm not saying I thought about potential total annihilation every moment, but it was hovering in the back of my mind, the near certainty that something really bad could happen at any moment-- on purpose or by accident--

and we would all be done for.

So, why bother studying for the SATs or doing your homework or making any plans, really?

But the thing is I did study for my SATs (not that it helped all that much since I was pretty dingy when it came to taking standardized tests). And I always did my homework. I applied for part-time jobs and filled out college applications. I moved forward as if the future would be there for me,

and, what do you know? it was.

Which I guess is my long way of saying that I did set my goals for the year 2018, because while I know there is no certainty that we'll all make it to the end of it, I am going to move forward as if we will.

For the record, my goals:

1. finish the revision of my middle grade novel
2. jump back into the adult novel I set aside last spring
3. write four blogs a month, plus one over at YA Outside the Lines
4. read a poem a day; read more, in general, in a variety of genres
5. eat better and exercise more (10,000 steps per day according to my Fitbit!)
6. paint the exterior of the house
7. expand my herb garden
8. volunteer and contribute to the community in a positive way (in Real Life as opposed to on social media)
9. take monthly dates with my husband
10. remember to live in the moment, which is all we truly have.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

In Which We Play All the Games (so you don't have to)

PREMISE: The day after Christmas and it's 5 degrees outside and no one wants to go anywhere and anyway, why can't we all just lounge around in our pajamas all day?

OBJECTIVE: Play all the games


Father - a lovable businessman who's recently visited Switzerland and India and enjoys working fun factoids about these trips into his conversation

Mother - distracted writer and cook (she will pop in and out of game-playing to prepare and clean up food)

Son - computer programmer from California and lover of history and games

Daughter - college student catching up on sleep and/or texting her darling boyfriend

Visiting Uncle - chessmaster and professional poker player; *he is the player to beat



Code Names

"We Didn't Playtest This at All (a completely ridiculous card game for 2 to 10 fun-seeking people)"

Trick Question



1. Kwizniac, because we can play and eat brunch at the same time. Basic gist of the game: guess the word on the card.

Challenge: The first clues are so vague, it's impossible to guess. Still, we all jump in with guesses anyway, even though each wrong guess means you lose five points.

We all lose a ton of points and move into negative number territory.

Winner, by a mile: Visiting Uncle

Consensus: decent game (after we change the rules and only take one point for wrong guesses)

2. Code Names

This game is a blur. I think I was making dinner during the rule-explaining? Something to do with guessing words based on a one-word clue? Also, I needed my reading glasses to see the words on the cards and that was annoying.

Winner: ??

Consensus: Everyone seemed to enjoy this one?

3. "We Didn't Playtest This at All (a completely ridiculous card game for 2 to 10 fun-seeking people)"

Disclaimer: I suspect this is a drinking game.

Gist: Everyone gets two cards. If you lose your cards, you lose the game. The stuff written on the cards is inane and often contradictory.


"Anyone who says the word "their, there, or they're" loses."

"If you play this card, everyone loses."

"Place this card in front of you. If a player doesn't say 'Ahh Zombies!' before playing a card on their turn, zombies eat their brain and they lose. Unless they have a banana."

I sneak into the kitchen and grab a banana.

Consensus: This is a drinking game

4. Trick Question

We team up for this one. Girls against the boys. Someone reads a question and the players grab an Us or Them game piece to decide who will have to answer.

The questions are logic questions and brain teasers and some people's brains are fried by now, (okay, MY brain is fried by now), so daughter and I decide on the strategy that we will always grab the Them piece and make the other team answer.

This works.

We win.

Consensus: Good game

5. Coup

I realize that I can't understand game directions when they are read to me, or maybe it's just been a long day of playing games and making multiple meals and cleaning up after multiple meals, because when Son reads the game directions for this game, my eyeballs literally roll back inside my skull.

The only solution is to play the game and hope to figure it out on the fly.

The gist: you have two characters and you're trying to kill everyone else's characters by lying and/or tricking people into thinking you're lying.

There's a long explanation for why this is so and yadda yadda ya Palace intrigue and influencing your rivals, but it doesn't really matter.

My strategy: Always tell the truth, which I am happy to say does work! I win!

Consensus: Fun game!

We end the day still in our pajamas, reading Kwizniac cards and eating leftovers.

Consensus: Great day

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Tales of a 25%-of-the-Time Snapper

Yesterday I snapped at the receptionist at my daughter's doctor's appointment. I won't go into all of the details, but the gist of it is I was frustrated about something the doctor had said to my daughter and instead of talking about it to the doctor, I took my annoyance out on the receptionist.

She was a nice lady, sitting behind the desk wearing these darling holiday ornament earrings, a detail I did not notice because I was busy snapping at her, but which I was informed about later in the car by my daughter, who told me I was mean and what the heck, Mom?? didn't you see how nice that lady was trying to be to you, and how cute her holiday earrings were?

um. no?

It's like that time you yelled at the cashier in the Dick's Sporting Goods store because a price sticker was mislabled, my daughter reminded me. 

oh yeah. that was bad.

But those are only two examples, I said, defensively. Most of the time I am a very kind person. Like, I'd say that in 75% of all of my interactions with strangers, waitresses, clerks, volunteers of any kind, the people in line at the post office-- I'm nice.

More like 50%, my daughter pointed out.

Crap. Is that true?

because I know what it feels like to be the waitress or the clerk or the volunteer or the person in line at the post office, the one mailing multiple packages and buying stamps while sensing the line growing behind me, the people sighing irritated sighs and glaring at my back, thinking OH MY GOD lady will you hurry the heck up with your packages!!!!

A few weeks ago I made the girl, who has the very unfortunate job of answering the phone in Ohio Republican Congressman Steve Stivers' office, cry. I have talked to this girl before and she has a very soft, dejected-beaten-down-sounding kind of voice and whenever I call the office and she answers, I try to remind myself that she is only answering the phone and not purposely making laws that will hurt me and my friends and my family members the way her boss Steve Stivers does,

but somehow, these thoughts fly out the window when I am on the phone with her and I end up turning snotty and/or ranting

and I tell myself: Whatever! That's HER problem!! Because she works for the Greedy Out-of-Touch Jerk and anyway, this is HER JOB to speak to Disgruntled Constituents! and she is the only recourse for us to vent our worries and fears and horror because it's not like STEVE STIVERS himself is going to answer the phone or hold a townhall or listen to our concerns, so who else are we going to talk to if we have problem?

But then I hang up, vented out and not feeling any better because all I really did is snap at a twenty year old intern,

which occurs to me must be The Worst Customer Service job in the world these days and I hope Steve Stivers is paying her decent money, or will write her a very good recommendation for her next job, and if he needs any help with this, I can vouch for her. "She--whoever she is-- is extremely polite and well-spoken and patient and handles stressful interactions like a pro!" 

When I was in grad school, I worked at a bookstore. One night, I was standing behind the cash register and a woman dumped all of her books and purchases onto the counter in front of me and I smiled at her and said something like, Wow, you've got a lot of things! as I began to ring her up.

She had this weird look on her face and she snapped at me, something along the lines of, Well, pardon me for taking up all of your time.

It hit me that she'd thought I was making some kind of dig about her purchases, when really, what did I care whether someone had one book or 500? I was still standing there cashier-ing, but I didn't know how to explain this, so I just kept ringing up her books and feeling crappier and crappier.

I don't know what this has to do with me yelling at Steve Stivers' hapless intern or my cruddy treatment of the holiday-loving receptionist in the doctor's office, but something I do know is that it can't hurt to remind ourselves that there are real human beings on the other side of our interactions,

the ones picking out cute holiday earrings or schlepping up the steps of the Capitol to answer the phone or toasting new tax bills that will blow up the deficit and take away healthcare and raise poor and middle class people's taxes,

(yeah. sigh. Steve Stivers is a real human being)

and here we are, all of us, standing in lines and picking up phones and toasting and/or freaking out over new tax bills, but today, at least,

let's try to be 100% kind to the people on the other side.

Monday, December 11, 2017


"...I had not been able to work in some months, had been paralyzed by the conviction that writing was an irrelevant act, that the world as I had understood it no longer existed. If I was to work again at all, it would be necessary for me to come to terms with disorder..." 

Sometimes you stumble on a book and find the words you need when you need them,

and apparently, I needed to hear the words of Joan Didion.

Joan Didion, if you don't know-- and I didn't-- is a novelist, essayist, journalist, memoirist, the author, more recently, of the acclaimed National Book Award winning The Year of Magical Thinking, but also the author of many pieces written in the 1960's and 70's and 80's, about the counter-culture and the Manson Family, about music and wars, sex and violence, grief and death-- pretty much the whole shebang of human experience.

I just happened to be browsing in the essay section of the library and opened one of her books and read the bit about disorder on the very first page and thought, yes, THIS, exactly.

The book, called Slouching Towards Bethlehem, alludes to the poem "The Second Coming" by William Butler Yeats.

You might recognize the lines from the poem:

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world...
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

and if you're like me, a former English major with words like these rattling around inside your head,

you have been thinking a lot about that poem lately, because it is about the end of the world, or what feels like the end of the world.

Yeats wrote the poem in 1919 after World War I had ended and it probably did feel like the end of the world then, to him and to a lot of people. (They didn't know, of course, there'd be another huge war twenty years later, and many many wars after that.)

But back to Joan Didion.

She wrote the lines above, the lines about coming to terms with disorder, in the 1960's. The Vietnam War was raging and Americans were watching it on the nightly news, the battles and blood overseas, and at the same time, watching battles and blood here, at home, as black people marched for their civil rights and policemen sprayed fire hoses at them and attacked them with clubs and vicious dogs, and cities were burning and teenagers were running away from home and dancing like loons in muddy fields.

Probably, it felt like the end of the world to Joan Didion, and to a lot of people.

She went to San Francisco and moseyed around the Haight-Ashbury district and wrote about the hippies and the anti-war protesters, and also happened to take note of their copious drug use and the sad fact that their toddlers were wandering around in diapers and occasionally dropping acid when their hippie parents weren't paying attention.

My point, and I do have one, is that Joan Didion reminded me what I once knew from William Butler Yeats, that there has always been disorder, that human beings, by nature, are disordered, and one of our tasks, while we are here, is to figure out how we are going to deal with that fact.

Some of us, I suspect, will drink too much or burrow into our Candy Crush games or watch funny You-Tube videos of cats, and some of us will fight and hurt each other and add to the pain of others, and some of us will pray to God to save us, and some of us will pretend that it is not happening because it is not happening to us, and some of us will resist and protest and make angry phone calls to our apologists-for-pedophiles congressmen,

or maybe we will do a combination of all of these things or maybe we will do none of them

or maybe we will write a poem or an essay or a blogpost about it to remind people in the future, that while we may be disordered, and it really does feel like the end of the world,

it isn't. 

Monday, December 4, 2017

Some mornings I wake up enraged...

okay, MOST mornings. It happens first thing, when I look at the news headlines on my phone, a long list of headlines that send a surge of adrenaline coursing through me when I learn about the men in charge disparaging the poor, the sick, the refugees literally running for their lives,

when I hear about the latest politician or director or comedian--grown men who think it's perfectly A-OK to waltz through a room of fifteen year old girls changing backstage at a beauty pageant or masturbate in front of a woman at work or take a photo of a sleeping woman while they grab the woman's boobs because ha ha, isn't that funny?

the first example, of course, is the president of the United States and half the people living in this country are perfectly fine with this and some of these people are my neighbors and family members and friends, now former friends, because I can draw one stupid line in the sand, but everyone else I am stuck with and so I have to look at their faces and wonder what they can possibly be thinking and what would they say to me when I was fifteen?

But the thing is, I know what they would say to me when I was fifteen because when I was fifteen, when I was thirteen, when I was eight years old, I heard people say it:

You are making a big deal out of this
You need to let it go
Oh, Jody, will you just stop?

The thing is I don't know how to stop waking up angry.

That was my problem when I was eight years old and when I was fifteen, and now, today, this morning. So, if you have any advice I am all ears.

Well, yeah, the obvious. Stop reading the damn news on your phone first thing in the morning.


And so I have been reading poems instead. And this morning I clicked on my phone and listened to this one:

And that is why I am angry today.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Three Wishes

It's usually fun to buy these gifts. 

We shop with the lists we are given by the charity. The child's name. The age and gender. Her hobbies. His favorite show. The Wish-- something like: a doll or Legos or an arts and crafts kit.

The trick is you have to keep it under forty dollars. 

Which makes it hard if the wish is a bike or an expensive computer game, but my husband and I take this directive as a challenge. For example, one year a child wanted a winter coat, and decent coats under 40 bucks aren't easy to find, but damn it, we found one. And last year, a little girl wanted a specific brand of doll and none of the Targets and Walmarts we visited had the doll for an African American child. We had to rush deliver it from the company website. 

Also, we don't want to buy only one item for these children we shop for. We always buy what they wish, of course, but we try to tuck in a few other odds and ends. Stickers. Mittens. A book. 

We like to imagine the kids at the holiday party, lining up when Santa comes, waiting for their names to be called, the packages and bags given out, the moment of anticipation before they tear past the tissue paper, hoping they will open what they wished for.  

This year one child will be disappointed. I already know this and I have no idea how to keep it from happening. 

We drew the names of three children and we wandered around Target the other day, scooping up wishes for two of the kids. A slime kit. A tablet. This year the challenge-- to keep it under 40 bucks -- was upsetting instead of motivational. The girl who wanted the slime kit also wished for clothes and shoes, but the people who run this particular charity didn't list what size the little girl is. How do you buy clothes and shoes for a kid when you don't know her size? 

We bought her a pair of slippers, in addition to the slime kit. The kid who wished for a tablet was pushing the 40 buck limit big time, but we found a doorbuster sale at Microcenter, leaving us with a small cushion to buy a cute winter hat for her too. 

We bought a cute hat for the third kid too. The information sheet we've been given has been stuffed in my purse for a few weeks. I am hoping for inspiration, but I know I am not going to get it wandering around Target or at some store's doorbuster sale. 

The child is an eleven year old African American girl. Her favorite movie is Beauty and the Beast. She likes to dance. Her favorite cartoon character is Hello Kitty. 

She has three wishes:

A safe Christmas
Feed the Homeless
A house

Tell me, please, someone, how we do we make her wish come true.