Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Where the Buck Stops

I'm tired. 

I'm tired of being responsible. Tired of doing the right thing. Tired of keeping all the balls in the air. 

I don't want to do the salon's banking today. I don't want to run payroll. I don't want to write a profile on an Hispanic entrepeneur.

It's raining. I want to wander an art museum and get lost in color. I want to sit in a conservatory and smell things growing. I want to eat beautiful food I did not prepare and make toasts with stemmed glasses that sing on contact.

I want to lie in the greener grass and watch someone else paint the damn fence.

I understand these are feelings, not actual (or even virtual) reality. I know it will pass. The sun will come out tomorrow, which is another day. 

Yeah, yeah, yeah.

I don't want to understand. I want to be right and righteous and righteously angry. And I want to do all this rightness while someone else does the dishes.

Thank you for listening. I feel better now.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


Once you decide you're good at a thing, you get better at it.

That's one of the things I've learned playing Stack 'Em over the past few days. Some of the others are nearly as surprising, coming from a video game, and all. 

* Until you understand the goal, you're just spinning your wheels.
* Movement is not the same as progress. 
* Your subconscious recognizes patterns your conscious mind can't see.
* You never know when or where the solution will appear.

The getting better thing puzzled me until I realized that believing in yourself releases you from fear. Releasing fear always, always (not a word I use lightly once, let alone twice) gives you more room to grow.

Amazing that I could learn something so profound from something so trivial. Ain't life grand?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stack 'Em High

Stack 'Em from Pogo Games is evil and must be destroyed.

I've never understood computer or video games or the people who play them. Colors flash, you react, sounds emit. And NOTHING HAPPENS. Who cares? Why would anyone spend more than a minute on such silliness?

Because those games are designed to suck your soul with their dirty little pixels, that's why. 

Every time you hear the squak and see "You Lose," the only thing you can think is, "One more time." I one-more-timed myself til 2:30 in the freaking morning Thursday.

Me flat-out wasting time is weird. It's just not something I do. I generally go pretty heavy on the create when I recreate. But. . . .

After way-too-many hours of doing the neutron dance with Stack 'Em Wednesday night, I started work on Thursday. Had trouble typing. All those letters hanging in space without anything supporting them just looked wrong. Wrong, I tell you. And I had the strangest sensation of hurry, hurry, hurry. (Pretty sure that feeling is the genesis of road rage.)

Late last night I turned on the tv before falling into bed. Every scene was filled with shapes begging to be stacked. No idea what the show was about, but did you see those pink squares?  I could stack the hell out of those babies.

Um. Yeah.  Stack 'Em is a horrible, brain sucking, total waste of time and must be removed from the planet. But wait. Let me play one more game first. Just one. Pinky swear.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

More Sights Along the Way

Love these textures.

The essence of hope.

Love the colors. Love the textures. Love Mimosa trees, even if they are considered invasive and unlovable.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Along the Road

Meandered home from Springfield, taking pictures along the way.

These flags appeared on the fence row. The farmer doesn't know who put them there or why.

Can you imagine trying to explain giant hay bales to an alien? Or even someone from NY?

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Moving Pictures

I'm a little like a magpie when something shiny catches my eye. Last night the shiny thing was Tom Hanks' acceptance speech for his Oscar for Philadelphia. References to it always remind me I'm sorry I missed it, but it turns out nothing's ever really gone anymore. (God Bless Chad Hurley, Steve Chen, and Jawed Karim. I do love me some YouTube.)

Watched Tom's speech for Philadelphia, then for Forest Gump, then got lost in others: Shirley MacLaine, Halle Berry, Jack Nicholson, Denzel Washington, Cuba Gooding, Jr.

This morning I'm struck by the way video captures images like mastodon tracks in sediment. The earth continues to spin but inside the code, nothing changes. Marlee Matlin can never lose the unfortunate baby's breath, Roberto Benigni is always delightful, Cloris Leachman still beautiful, and Forest Whitaker brilliant and gracious.

Outside though, outside the code, everything changes. Check out photos of Tom Hanks in Big and then in Charlie Wilson's War. They'll put the fear of God in you, even if God is not fearsome to you.

Younger does not always equal better, but older always equals closer to the time when someone else is taking up the space we now occupy, breathing the oxygen now apportioned to us, absorbing the blessings now showered upon us. That'll make us crazy unless we dance to the music of time's drumbeat and leave our own tracks in the stone floors of our "one wild and precious life."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Captured Images

Images from the drive to Springfield:

Near Post Oak, a white-haired woman wearing a blue denim shirt and a red bandana tied around her head like a headband, plucks blackberries from bushes along the fence row. Her right pinkie is extended and she moves her hands with the grace one would expect of a dowager princess selecting jewels from a glass case.

Near Deepwater, an ancient bone-colored Winnebago with a turtle skull wired to its front grille pulls a trailer loaded with tricked out, electric blue Harley Davidsons.

Near Quarles, against a brilliant summer-blue sky, a yellow Caterpillar front-end loader lifts thousand-pound hay bales onto a black trailer pulled by a red Massey Ferguson tractor.

Near Humansville, black Angus, rootbeer-colored Hereford, blonde Charolais, and Brown Swiss cows stand knee deep in an alfalfa field. Every head down to eat, only the torsos are visible and the scene looks like a Far Side cartoon: Maniac Meat Machines Munch Madly.

Everywhere, huge flamingo-pink flowers burst from deep green Mimosa trees, begging to be loved.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Just Plain Trashy

Know what is the good part about telling friends and family that you're working on a book about making usable things from trash?

They save their trash for you.

Know what the bad part is?

ex-ACT-ly!! (patting my nose)

Here's today's haul of things-that-must-find-a-place. (sigh)

(But my sister cleaned out a closet and found some mixer beaters that will be a perfect submarine propeller!)

I'm off to Springfield this morning. My brother's going to shoot photography for the how-tos as I make a lamp out of a gorgeous vodka bottle. (I've got an ice-cream pail full of slushy raspberry vodka cocktails in the freezer. Oh, the sacrifices I make for my art!)

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Hooking Ideas

I'm at it again: playing with cardboard. Last night one of my projects came together so well I could barely believe I thought it up.

In truth, I'm not sure I did "think it up." I'm not sure any of us thinks things up. It may be that when we open ourselves to creativity, it's like holding up an enormous shepherd's hook into the sky. The hook grabs onto a thought or idea, we pull it to ourselves, and begin the process of making it our own.

Some people identify themselves as "creative." Others identify themselves as "not creative." The difference may lie in being receptive to the ideas floating in the collective soup of consciousness, in being willing to hold up the hook without caring how silly you look or how impractical it is.

Some of us are hookers. Some of us aren't. Just the way of the world, I guess.

* photo by jaboobie

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Glass Floors

Evan's first seizure was the lose-consciousness-fall-in-the-floor type once called "grand mal" and now known as "generalized tonic clonic."

The day after the accident, 6-year-old Katie lay in a hospital bed on the right side of the room, her forehead covered by a huge bandage. My husband lay in another bed on the left, unbandaged but unfocused. 10-year-old Evan lay in the bed beside Bill, each of them green and pasty under the fluorescent light over the beds. I sat on a beige vinyl visitor's chair between the beds.

A movie played on the television suspended from the ceiling. At a commercial, Evan stood and started to the bathroom. Halfway cross the room, he collapsed. By the time I got to him, his body was stiff, his limbs jerking.

The nurse who answered the call button would not touch him. "I can't. He's not a patient," she said.

Evan came to while I was scrambling for help. I lifted him into a wheelchair and rushed him to the emergency room, where the long search for answers began.

In the weeks that followed, we never knew when it would happen again. Bouncing across the family room, riding a bike in the street, balancing on a ledge in a parking lot. Every step was treacherous.

I felt as though the floors were glass, thin glass that might shatter at any moment and send us plunging into the dark, bleeding and broken.

There's no feel-good ending to this little tale, no "and then I woke up." Not sure why, but that glass-floor feeling has been with me over the last few days.


Saturday, July 12, 2008

Leader of the Pack

The proverbial day and dollar just won't do it. Right now I'm feeling a week late and $256.39 short. Turns out every "good idea" I hatch has already been done to death by smarter, more creative, skinny people with good hair and white teeth.

Out of curiosity (and a bit of wounded ego), I followed a site meter trail and discovered that Google kicks up 1,770,000 hits on the words "reflections on the pond." Wanna know what the very first result is?

That's right, Baby. My little blog. First of 1,770,000. The title may not be as original as I hoped, but it's leading a million-plus pack. Pffft.

Reminds me of the Mac commercial where PC lovers chant, "We're Number 2! We're Number 2!"

Umm. Can I add, I just this moment got that the "number 2" reference is about more than market position. Yes sirree. Feeling real bright over here right now.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Tinkering Around

Spent most of yesterday messing with cardboard and paper mache. Made a little awning for the playhouse that's so cute it almost made me cry. Seriously, where does this stuff come from? I can't be thinking it up, so someone or something must send ideas on a cosmic string that vibrates inside my head.

I love it when I haven't yet even consciously recognized a problem with a design, but an answer arrives as simply as a paper airplane sailed in through my ear.

(Yes, it does get crowded in there. Thank you for not making fun.)

Anyway, when I got home last night, the tv in the sunroom was on, tuned in to a movie about A.C. Gilbert, the guy who invented the Erector Set. What are the odds that I'd spend the day designing toys and walk into the house to find a movie about a toy designer playing on a tv that's rarely even turned on?

Twang. The cosmic string suggested research. Google revealed a fascinating man. Gilbert won Olympic gold in the pole vault, completed medical school, and paid his college tuition doing magic. He founded his toy company to produce magic kits.

Gilbert developed the Erector Set after watching a work crew put up a power line tower. Soon after the first set was sold in 1913, the nation went crazy for them. Erector Sets became one of the most popular toys of all time.

Generations of boys (and the toys were marketed to and considered nearly exclusive property of boys—we can talk about that later) learned to put things together and take them apart from playing with Erector Sets. New sets and models were events in a boy's life.

Gilbert's motto was, Playing leads to learning. I reckon. Did you know that William Sewell put together the prototype for the first artificial heart pump from his childhood Erector Set?

(Googling around, I also discovered that John Lloyd Wright, son of Frank Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs and that some MIT students built a computer from Tinker Toys that actually played tic tac toe.)

So...I'm playing. I'm learning. And I'm wondering what history will reveal about the impact of today's popular toys (can you say Grand Theft Auto?).

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Peeking into the Pool

Big drama at the salon yesterday, centering on one woman's inability to accept that she is not, in fact, the axis upon which the Earth spins. No matter how many times I learn and relearn this, I am surprised at how completely each of us is the star of our own story.

When I visited my brother earlier this summer, we trotted out lots of old memories. As he told several stories, I stared in wonder. "You were there?" I asked. I literally did not remember his presence at the events he was describing. Jeff is four years younger, which explains a lot. Basically, he was a nuisance I tried to ignore much of the time.

Still, he was the center of every story he recounted, which was rarely the way I remembered the same events. In my memory, it all revolved around me.

Neither is true. Both are true. The subjective nature of reality fascinates me. A former counselor, a strange and wise old soul, used to tell me there are always twelve possible realities. Probably. Especially if there are twelve people in the room.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Fun with Cardboard Boxes

The projects I'm designing require cardboard boxes. Lots and lots of cardboard boxes.

Last night I ventured into the unimproved side of the basement and discovered  six forgotten cardboard boxes (each 5 ft tall) stacked in the corner.  Looking at them, I remember that I couldn't make myself throw them away. They're so big and such good cardboard.  I'll want them some day. 

Today's the day, and I'm so excited about this project I'm tempted to see the boxes as a sign. It's probably just another example of why I'm such a pack rat: you never know what you're going to need later.

Whatever. I've got great big pieces of cardboard to play with, and I can't wait to get started!  It's going to be a great day. 

* photo by Chris Campbell

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sofa Sleeper

It's that time of year again. Actually, it's one of several times—mid-summer, harvest moons, the first few fire-lit evenings of fall, every night my Christmas tree is up, early spring—when I end up sleeping on the sofa every night til my hips and neck won't take it anymore.

My living room sofa was built for looks, not for comfort. Never meant to be a bed, the center of its single goose-down cushion has permanently assumed the shape of my rear end. No amount of fluffing and stuffing puts it right again, and it gets worse every time I settle into the sag.

I know I should drag myself 15 feet more to my actual bedroom, and most of the year I do. But I cannot walk away from the big windows when the the silhouettes of the trees dance in the breeze, accompanied by the bass rhythm of bullfrogs and the lead guitar of tree peepers. When moonlight frosts the wings of geese and glows from the edge of every ripple, I just can't let it go.

A few more minutes, I think. I'll watch just a few more minutes. Like "one more kiss" making out with a new love, one becomes two becomes twelve dozen, and I wake with my hips two inches lower into the misshapen cushion and a bendy straw neck even Extra-strength Advil won't uncurl.

It may play hell with these old bones, but it sure soothes my soul. A pretty fair trade, I guess.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Dye-ing for a Story

I'm a brunette again. Before you jump to any conclusions about my personal depths or lack thereof*, let me assure you I did it for the salon. Only for the salon. 

Finding good stylists is a never ending challenge, and from time to time my sister and I sacrifice our heads to the cause. We needed to check out a candidate's color skills: I had gray hair. What's a girl to do?

So imagine this: after finding out that I write, the young woman tells me she wants to be a writer but doesn't have any stories worth telling.

I say everyone has stories. In a sad, slow voice, she replies that her life is too boring to have any stories.

Over the next two hours, she mentions that her great grandfather was killed while robbing a train, her great grandmother raised four children alone on an Iowa farm at the turn of the century, her grandmother mostly raised her because her mother was a drug addict, when she was 8 she lived in Texas with a group of drug dealers her mother got mixed up with, and her pre-teen daughter has something called "mush mouth," which she describes as a particular kind of speech delay. She is in love with one man and recently married another because her daughter needs a father and her new husband tries to be a good one.

Yeah. I feel bad about her story-less existence. Don't you?

*The other day I read about a character who survived a fall from a ladder then drowned in a rain puddle half an inch deep. Sometimes I feel so shallow that if my depths were that puddle, the character would have lived to raise all kinds of hell.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Seven Wholes in Human Head

My teens and early 20s were a rush to maturity, a headlong flight to someplace else. 

My 30s found me working the peaks and valleys of mothering and the shifting ground of a faithless marriage.

My 40s blossomed into my first real adolescence, a renaissance of my soul and body.  

Now, in my 50s, I've stopped moving somehow and consigned sex and love and adventure to memories and dreams. I meet my days as though the mundane life I now live is all there is or will be.

Just read an interview on where Elizabeth Gilbert said, 

" using a diving rod. You know those people who have a gift for walking over the ground holding a stick and then --- when they pass over water --- the stick jumps, an electric shimmer runs up their arms, and they know there's a well to be dug under there? That's how it felt when I was reading over my piles and piles of journals. I would just skim over it until I felt that electric shimmer...."

Humdrum fills the journals of our lives. Even grand adventure doesn't look grand close up. It looks like details, like one foot in front of the other. Flashes of fabulous lie beneath layers of ordinary.

Beyond from her mega-hit book, Eat, Pray, Love, Gilbert is a fascinating woman. An article she wrote for GQ about her job in a dive bar was the basis for the movie, Coyote Ugly. She spent years writing The Last American Man, a book about a mountain man she met years after she and his brother worked together pretending to be cowboys in Wyoming.

Check out these photos:

Hard to believe they're of the same person. I'll bet Gilbert is neither as prim as she appears in the first nor as effervescent as she appears in the second. She's probably a 12-bean soup of a soul, grim and joyous by turns, a woman who dances on scarred wood countertops and meditates on stone floors, one who has loved and hated her circumstances with equal passion. Minus the bar and the ashram, the same is true of most of us.

At 30, making superman pajamas for Evan.

At 46, celebrating at a friend's wedding.

The woman in these photos swims naked in broad daylight and swelters in jeans because she won't wear shorts in public. She withers at a corner table at a junior high dance and dances on a bar table 30 years later. She loves and hates (and tries to forgive) the same man. Hell, she loves and hates (and tries to forgive) herself.

Like anyone else, she is not only the things visible at any given moment, not just one of the things she has been or will be. She is restless, aggressively domestic, clueless, sensual, joyful and lost, plus quite a few other things I can't think of right now. 

No wonder it takes a divining rod to find the right spot to dig.

 *divining rod photo by TW Collins. Laughing E. Gilbert photo by wordsmithbooks. Somber E. Gilbert photo accompanies an interview on

Friday, July 04, 2008

Independence Day

Here's Katie, celebrating her independence aboard a boat in Sydney Harbor.

If you celebrate today, be safe and happy. 

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Sheer Folly

Came across this image while doing some research tonight. This service station in Zillah, Washington, was built in 1922 as a reminder of the Teapot Dome Scandal. The station isn't operating anymore, and very few people remember Albert Fall (who was Secretary of the Interior under Warren G. Harding) or the scandal over leasing oil reserves that got him sent to prison. 


This little building isn't everyone's pot of organic green, but you have to admit it has character. 

In case you're interested, you can find photos of approximately a zillion really big things here. 

I'm thinking of visiting some of these things. I mean, can you really say you've lived fully if you haven't seen the world's largest muskie (I have and it's pretty damn awesome) or the world's largest can of fruit cocktail?

Seeing the world's largest pineapple might change my life. No? How about the world's largest pyrogy?

Oh, all right. None of them would change my life. But I'd surely die happy if I'd  seen the world's largest sharptail grouse before I drew my last breath.

* photo from

Stormy Weather

Curled up in my red leather chair last night to reread Stephen King's On Writing. First, I lit a candle or two, pulled up Paul Potts on the iPod, and watched gloom gather over the pond. 

Life's beauty brushed me like fur over skin. Magnificent.  

Gradually, I realized it was raining. Hard. Pretty soon the wind picked up, yowling through the trees like a living thing. 

So glad it's out there and I'm in here, I thought, as though the walls and windows somehow actually separated me from nature's force.

Turned on the tv to check for warnings and heard reports of "teacup-sized hail." Seriously?  According to the weather guy, it's one of the official descriptions. Never heard it before.

My storm shelter is a lovely bathroom in the basement. I made a nest of pillows and quilts and lounged on the bathroom floor for a while, content with my book and my music. Got out flashlights and all, but didn't take the whole too seriously.

Strange, how the illusion of safety can be as good as the real thing. Come to think of it, the illusion's all we've ever got. Might as well enjoy it. 

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Katie Update

Katie's been Down Under almost 5 weeks now. She has petted kangaroos and emus as well as eaten their meat. She has learned to surf, seen Macbeth at the Sydney Opera House, and hiked along the Gold Coast.

She has also lived with cockroaches, commuted to work on a route that includes two buses and a fair amount of walking, and lived with 100 people she'd never met until they set up housekeeping together.

Yesterday I asked her if she would decide to go again, knowing everything she now knows. Her answer warmed the cockles of my mother heart.

"Yes. I don't love being without my friends for so long, but now I know I could go anywhere in the world and be okay."

Bingo! That was the thing I most wanted for her: comfort with adventure, the feeling that you can handle whatever life throws at you. 

She'll go a long way, that girl of mine. And that's good, as long as she always comes home again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Bouncing Back

My friend Tom Lemmer once told me I should be papering my bathroom walls with rejection slips.

Before anyone jumps on Tom, let's get this straight. My writing isn't everyone's cup of tea. No one's writing is. Tom was telling me to reach, to grow, to get beyond the known, which means I've got to risk rejection. A lot of it.

I started a bulletin board yesterday. Made it special, just for rejection notices. Got two so far and more to come.

The first one, from a magazine, kind of threw me. I really liked the essay I sent them and even though it was only the second one I'd written, I had pretty high hopes. After all, the first one I ever wrote got published. Why not the second?

"Thanks so much, but we don't have a spot for this in an upcoming issue."

Ouch! The woman has mastered the art of succinct. She might as well have written: "We don't want to stink up our magazine with this shit."

I combed my bangs over the big L on my forehead and slunk around the house wondering if the whole world was laughing at me.

Then I remembered the whole world has its own problems—wars and famine and such.

And I remembered Carolyn See's suggestion in Making a Literary Life: send thank you notes for rejections. See says a thank you note deflects the negative energy and reframes the rejection into a new opportunity.

Thank you for taking the time to read and consider my essay. Although disappointed it will not appear in your fine magazine, I appreciate your response.

I wish you and ___ continued success.

Ms. See is right. I felt better the moment I hit send. Pffft! Those pulses coursed their way through cyberspace, and the ball was back in the editor's court instead of ricocheting around the dark corners of my mine.

When the second rejection arrived, I didn't even hesitate. Composed a nice little note and fired it off in minutes. My mood improved right on cue.

The bulletin board was my own idea, kind of a yardstick for my growth. Not quite "papering my bathroom," but I did hang it on the back of the bathroom door. You know—poetic justice and all.