Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Counting our Pesos

That's how Jenny, Steve, and I spent our evenings in Zihuatanejo, back in 1997, as we were beach-hopping from Puerto Vallarta to Puerto Escondido. After ice cream happy hour (two for one until 7pm!), wandering around, and breaking a sweat over air hockey, we'd wind our way back to the non-air-conditioned rooms and start stacking pesos. Jenny always, always, always seemed to find a secret stash of bills that bumped up her daily allotment. She'd say, "Now I can get that mask" or "We gotta go back so I can try on that shirt" or "I'm going to order camarones tomorrow". She fully loved every momentito, every detail of our journey.

I returned to Zihua a couple weeks ago, for seven nights, under dramatically different circumstances. I'd lost my Jenny I'd known for so long, but gained a new Jenny who will hopefully learn to love Mexico just as much. We stayed in air conditioned rooms and my budget was far more than 80 pesos a day. But still, every night, after I walked growly baby a few laps around the crib and plopped her in, after I guided Max through brushing his teeth with bottled water, I'd count my pesos. With each one, I felt my heart beat for Jenny, and break just a little bit. She'd want me going back to Zihua, I know, but she'd want to be there with me.

So I made her a secret promise about Mexico, one I'll post someday soon. I'm working hard on a project that is monumental, and that would be important to Jenny. As Jen always sang during Hercules in Espanol, "Amor, amor, no importa la distancia..."

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Hong Kong Phooey Hustle

My obsession with Hong Kong Phooey, that '70s superhero dog that was a kung fu fighting superstar, has resulted in a one-act play. Man, did I have fun writing this play. Here's the dope on it:

"Hong Kong Phooey Hustle" concerns two lost soul Los Angelinos who hit a hipster hotel in Portland, Oregon after a long road trip. As the tired friends argue, they spill a polvo--a Mexican powder used for invocations--in the room. The accident sets off a series of surreal happenstances, including a spiritual possession by the '70s kung fu cartoon dog superhero Hong Kong Phooey and the busting up of an international jewelry heist, all contained within the simple hotel room. It takes an otherwordly visitation by Saint Cupcake to deliver the friends from despair and give them the strength to summon some righteous kung fu chops.

This was the first play that seemed, at times, to write itself. There were writing sessions in which I was so delighted--like when Wilma asks the hotel maid if someone from spa services can perform an exorcism, or when Rosemary insists that Wilma's saint painting of the Virgen de Guadalupe has the virgin holding a vibrator--that I felt I was watching the play unfold.

The play I've just started is not such smooth sailing. I'm trying a lot of new things. It's a musical, tentatively titled "Beatific Beatitudes", inspired by Jenny's old comic strip "The Beats". Meg's gonna help with the jazzy beatnik music, to be performed by a trio onstage. I know this project would be important to Jenny, but I still find myself fighting apathy to write it. For example, I am supposed to be working on it at this moment.

Friday, November 10, 2006

How to Put on a Show for Under $20

Here's a reason to love Portland. The wonderful Brenda of Tour de Crepes gave us her space for an evening show. I built a couple altars, put up a theme exhibit of shrines, and got the flyer-making machine rolling. I feel so very fortunate to have friends such as Meggie (the wild violinist), Jennifer (super crafty concocter of sugar skulls), Steve (on dreams & politics), David (poet), and, of course, The StageSlingers (ShaSha, Ciji, Susan & Me) who rocked the house!

Portland makes things possible. I remember when Jenny put up a show in Oakland, it cost her so much money just to rent the space. And scoring the space was a whole other production. Living here, I realize there's just no need for all that hype and fuss (even though sometimes what I miss most is the hype and fuss).

I got up in front of everyone and spoke, and it was as if I was hearing Jenny. I was always the words behind someone else's voice, but there I was voice and all. It made me miss her, but it made me proud of all she had done, who she was, and where she was going. The month before she had died, she had filled the Climate Theater in SF's SOMA. She had them. The memory burns me because I want what was going to happen next to happen, but it inspires me because there she was, self-actualized.

So I did the show, advertised on a 5-cent pile of cardstock recycled from SCRAP, with special-effect lighting provided by ten dollars worth of saint candles. Half the show's budget went to candles, which may explain why there was a small fire on an altar during the last piece of the show.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

DASHBOARD SHRINE

The momentum is on! My new theater group, The StageSlingers, is hosting its inaugural show this Sunday, in honor of Dia de los Muertos. I built an altar for it, and also have a tiny tiny art show in the theater space. Here's the description and information:

Writers, artists, performers, and musicians gather at this Salon de Muertos, spinning surreal tales and fiddling Romanian gypsy dirges in the shadows of a candlelit altar. Join theater troupe The StageSlingers for an evening evoking dreams, death, and the beyond. The program of suspenseful stories, urban legends, fantasies, and folktales celebrates Day of the Dead and Todos Santos.

Sunday, November 5th at 7pm.
Free admission.
Tour de Crepes.
2921 NE Alberta Street.
503-288-5980

Saturday, October 28, 2006

All I Want for Hanukkah is a Hulk Pillow

Max made a 48-item list for the holidays today. He seems to have a problem with that old boundary between fantasy and reality.
1. space mucus
2. bendable monsters
3. A flying saucer--Santa can get into outer space with his reindeers
4. skateboard
5. cozy footies
6. cool paper for drawing
7. Scooby Doo movies
8. sketchpads
9. Little Vampire Goes to School
10. a new Ding Dong clock
11. the real Hello Kitty
12. alien kit
13. comics
14. Hulk shirt
15. Spiderman scarf
16. superhero gloves
17. new vans
18. gummy worms
19. transformers
20. ninja stickers
21. Pokemon toys, including the real Pikachu
22. baseball
23. a motorboat
24. snow shovel
25. a goldfish
26. an umbrella
27. ancient treasure
28. New pants--green, like I'm pooping out green
29. jumprope
30. hula hoop
31. air hockey
32. new pencils
33. a crown
34. A superhero costume, with a real cape so I can fly
35. a Hulk pillow
36. a snorkeling kit
37. grapes
38. eyeball glasses
39. slime rings and ropes
40. Beastie Candy, that candy that makes you into a monster
41. a light hat
42. a fortune-telling crystal ball
43. magic tricks
44. A tiki ball that can come alive at nighttime, that I'll leave at Mimi's so it can go in her room, shaking maracas. It will be a real tiki festival!
45. a Pudding clock
46. a book that shows how to write Japanese
47. a new nightlight with a superhero
48. a new roll of Scotch tape

Thursday, October 26, 2006

She speaks!

Well, at least a little.

Genevieve is a week shy of 14 months old. So far, she says: Mama, Dada, Bubba (brother), here, he-llo, that (dat), and maybe just maybe book and cat. This is when the fun starts!

Update on 11/1: She's 14 months today and also says "bath" and, maybe, "up dada".

Update on 11/27: The chant is "na na no no", so very close to Mork from Ork.

Update on 11/30: She says "Mimi" and "woof". Maybe "dere" for "there".

Sunday, October 22, 2006

ESPANOL

My whole adult life, I've tried to learn Spanish. Sometimes it flows, and other times, it's as if my Spanish is an impressionist painting, alluding to subjects, but kind of blurry and blotchy. I was worried that, when I moved to Portland, some of my Spanish would fade. So I've been working to stay in touch with the language, as well as Mexican culture. Here's some of the Spanish happenings in my life these days:

Sin Fronteras: This group is working to educate people about the Mexicano government's destruction of public schools in Chiapas and Oaxaca. I went to their recent documentary screening and it was once again illuminated for me how little the U.S. media addresses international issues, and how much U.S. constant consumption and capitalism has deeply damaged other corners of the world.

Viva Kinder!: Maxito is in dual immersion bilingual Spanish kindergarten. His teacher told me that the other day, after much prompting and modeling of phrasing, Maxito volunteered a full phrase in Espanol: "Yo fui a la casa de Mimi." When the teacher asked, "Quien es Mimi?", he told her, "Abuelita." Then, she got him to put the whole thing together: "Yo fui a la casa de mi abuelita." Que milagro!

Salon de Muertos: My new theater group, The StageSlingers, is hosting Dashboard Shrine, a Salon de Muertos with surreal stories, fiddled gypsy dirges, and dreamy poetry in honor of Day of the Dead. I'm going to build one of my pedestal altars for the event. It's Sunday, November 5th, at Tour de Crepes, 2921 NE Alberta Street, at 7pm.

Vamanos a Zihuatanejo! We just bought our tickets to Zihuatanejo. We'll be on the Mexican beach in early December. Max can't wait to snorkel. This will be only Genevieve's second time in Mexico--I try to make sure my ninos visit Mexico once a year (but I can visit more!).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Living Fast

I feel like life's been in fast-forward lately, so I'm going to resort to headline-itas to share the latest goings-on.

L.A. Odyssey
As I did with Maxito, I took a vacay after weaning. Genevieve was wild because, after I intiated weaning, she lept on the bottle bandwagon without any drama. I'd read about babies self-weaning, but always with a little suspicion. But it does happen (sometimes)! So, I flew to Los Angeles and met Meggie and Carrie. We went to many punky little galleries and shops, the highlight definitely being seeing The Datefarmers doing their Mexican street art-prison tattoo-lucha libre-religious icon thing at New Image Gallery. I also adored Toy Town, the downtown district filled with cement-floor warehouses packed with cheapo toys and trinkets. We picked up some saint bracelets, a stool made of purple fun fur, a set of gold buddhas, embroidered shoes, Japanese stickers, and some sweet mango, chile& lime in a cup.

Kindergarten
Whoa. Maxito's been in K-land for over a week, now, and he hasn't had a breakdown. He favors recess and science, and won't tell me much else that's happening. He got his name on the board yesterday, for asking a girl what to do on an assignment. I acted cool about it, but I couldn't help but think how I never, not once, put a kindergarten child's name on the board for punishment. What's the point? Anyway, he's made a friend or two, so I'm happy.

Play Group
And I don't mean one for babies! I'm in the Portland Playwrights Group, and things are whipping along! I've written a multimedia piece about immigration called "Cautionary Tale". I've begun another cartoony, anarchic comedy called "Hong Kong Phooey Hustle" because, lately, I've been obsessed with Hong Kong Phooey, that Kung Fu-fighting dog of the '70s. And I just met with an owner of a cafe on Alberta Street who many want to host some of our productions.

Genevieve
Tries to walk with us supporting her. She overlifts each leg--we call it moonwalking. Today, she had me support her as she tried to run so she could see Max in the other room. She's almost 13 months--I just can't believe it. She sings and yodels. She loves dogs (a little too much, actually, pulling their fur between her fingers). She snarls at me a la Billy Idol if I take things away from her. She stills pulls off her socks, crows about it, stuffs them in her mouth, and then waves her feet around wildly.

40 Hour Man
My husband, Steve Lafler, has written this brilliant book. He's getting so much attention. He's been interviewed by radio stations in Portland, North Carolina, and Minneapolis so far, and he's hosting a publishing party in October at The Know, my favorite Alberta Street bar for 15-year-olds. Go, Steve, go!

Steve

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Dear Genevieve and Maxito


To my babies:

I don't want to wax too sentimental, but I was talking with my dear friend Trey the other night and we had to agree that our babies have given us the adventures of our lives. Trey and her son Kyle spent the summer saying "What do you want to do today?" and then diving in. Something about having children has opened us up, compelling us to move forward while also reflecting on the best parts of our childhoods.

Maxito, you turned 5 in July, and you start Kindergarten next week. I love the smudged smiling Happy Ghost pictures and many-eyed alien drawings you bring home for me now; I can only imagine the beautiful art projects that await. You spend so much of your day giving and being kind--trying to make baby Jenny laugh, feeding her Cheerios, asking me for a huggle on the couch, offering your hair for Jenny to grab and eat, and saying, "Dada, can I help? Can I do it, too?" Today you busted your piggy bank open to buy a marzipan croissant at the Star E. Rose cafe, and it reminded me of how Jenny would buy a croissant every day after school.

Genevieve, you turned one a few days ago! You seemed to know the party was all about you at Pambiche's Hora de Amigos--you chomped on the cocktail menu, shouted at everyone who came into the restaurant, gulped down plantains and arroz con leche, and tried to grab all your presents at once. You are my tough little girl, but with a sweet soul like your auntie.

Yesterday, I got obsessive. I was trying to clean up every last piece of spilled rice off the floor, and I kept spotting one more grain. In the meantime, Daddy was holding naked Genevieve, about to give her a bath, when he heard two little splats of poop hit the floor. You see, there is no time or space for cleaning up every grain of rice when you have two kids. I embrace the chaos, with all the tears and the anxious calls to urgent care and the robots made out of garbage because every moment, every tiny thing, has made Maxito and Genevieve who they are, my sweet shining stars.

xoxoxoxoxoxoxoxo--Mama

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

The Amelie Game

A friend of mine posted on her MySpace about a game she plays, inspired by the movie Amelie. When you're feeling uninspired, make a list of things you like and don't like.

Since I am procrastinating working on a creative project right now that has to be done tonight, I thought I'd play the game (to both kill a little more time and to perhaps jump start my getting to work).

I like...
doorways and windows, especially if they're filled with light
the washed-out flat pink of beverages in Dr. Seuss books
going somewhere old or somewhere new
signs and symbols, pictographs and petroglyphs

I don't like...
dust under the furniture
bad omens
the crick in my neck
picking up the wrong drink at my neighborhood cafe

Friday, July 21, 2006

In Search of Multicultural Portland: The Library

Portland has an incredible library system that just kicks ass over the Oakland Public Library. These are the kind of libraries I grew up visiting, with lots of people walking and bike-riding there, rather than jams of cars vying for parking. Maxito and Jenny and I head over without even checking the hours first, because most branches are open every day and into the evening. The librarians are laid back and courteous, and never seem to jump on people about fines. The hold system is stellar--you can put movies on hold and keep them out for 3 weeks.

So I hesitate to complain. And yet. And yet--what is wrong with the collection? I was in Hollywood branch yesterday and was seeking board books for Genevieve and I to read (and, okay, for her to munch on just a little bit) and there was not a single board book in the room that was about a child of color. Okay, okay, there was one--The Snowy Day. That's it! Book after book of animals or white people--in a library, where someone is conscientiously reading reviews, consulting books lists, and ordering books. It's a travesty! As I told the librarian there, "I guess I'm just used to the collection at the North Portland branch." That's the branch near my house, and it has tons of muliticultural and multilingual books.

I guess the rationale in Portland is that, if you live in a white neighborhood, you only order books about white people. I can see how this city--which I truly have come to like and which is why I become frustrated when this issue of homogeneity rears its ugly head--has remained pretty segregated over the years.

I'm considering some ways to wage my one-woman revolution at the Hollywood library:
--Put it multiple requests for multicultural books.
--Check out multicultural books from other branches and return them to the Hollywood branch.
--Donate multicultural books to the Hollywood branch.
--Volunteer to run some type of multicultural program there.
--Every time I go, doggedly go through the search for multiculti books and be vocal about the lack of results.
--Go back to my North Portland branch and give up on the gringo branch.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Raspberries


Baby Jenny is 10 1/2 months old. She's a big goof.

Art Collecting on the Mexican Backroads

I've been writing articles on lowbrow, outsider, and folk art for Aishti Magazine. I thought I'd post one of the pieces here.

Tope. There was a word I’d never encountered in five years of Spanish classes. Maybe it’s the name of a town, I thought, just as the driver of the gypsy cab hit the road hard and bounced the four of us who were squeezed together in the back seat. So now I knew that tope meant bump. You learn some Spanish vocabulary the hard way.

If you ask me, the hard way is the best way. That’s how we wound up shopping for art sold out of farms and ranchitos in Oaxacan villages, when we could have settled for boutique-hopping around the city center.

That morning, we had trekked to Oaxaca’s Centro de Abastos, the main marketplace, and wound our way to the back, where an empty lot was filled with signs listing different villages. Groups gathered at each sign, waiting for colectivos—cabs with designated routes—to transport them to the valle de Oaxaca.

My boyfriend and I had a solitary goal: adding to our collection of alebrijes, small wooden carvings of fantastical creatures that are meticulously painted in brilliant colors and designs. Each alebrije begins its life as part of the copal tree. Artists use machetes and knives to carve the soft wood into iguanas, fire-breathing aliens, grasshoppers, bandas of devils, and other creatures, imaginary and real. Then they paint the carvings, sometimes wielding toothpicks to complete the intricate patterns.

We were headed down the tope-filled road to Arrazola, home to the workshop of Manuel JimĂ©nez Ramirez and his family, the supposed originators of the Oaxacan alebrije craft. Ramirez’s success has inspired many villagers to turn from farming to carving, transforming Arrazola into a destination for galleries and collectors.

The cabbie deposited us in the town square and three boys ran up to us, offering their services as guides through the town. As Felix, the eldest, walked us across a dirt lot inhabited by baby goats, I spotted the signs—wooden signs, painted with family names, or with the word figuras, or simply a picture of an armadillo or turtle. I reached for my boyfriend’s hand to signal him: I’m about to drop some pesos.

We never made it to the Ramirez workshop. Instead, we found an empty town square, surrounded by dark buildings with concrete floors. Brilliant painted creatures filled shelves, while iguanas with elaborately curled tails were attached to the walls. As we approached, a man stepped forward and pulled the cord suspended next to a single, naked light bulb, illuminating his makeshift gallery. We cleaned him out.

Then Felix and company led us to a long building alongside towering crops. A group of women stood behind tables that were filled with alebrijes as well as the lunch they were preparing. We filled our backpacks and placed orders for some friends.

As we staggered to a fonda for lunch, we spotted a small sign hanging outside someone’s kitchen that said animalitos. A married couple stood inside. The wife was proud to show us her original creation: a frog with an intricately tattooed penis. She also had a simply carved snail covered in Matisse-like patterns. We tried bargaining for the snail, but she wouldn’t budge.

We grabbed a second-class bus back home to Oaxaca city. We hardly noticed the topes as we unwrapped the pale pink paper clinging to our alebrijes. And we began what would become our traditional conversation after a day of buying art: “Next time, I’m getting that one that she wouldn’t bargain over.” Next time.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Unanswerable questions, maybe?

I am sending out questions to the universe, and wondering if I'll get any answers.

--Maxito wants to know if the sun will ever die.

--Do babies dream?

--Someone please tell me where my birth certificate is hiding.

--Is there a museum of doors in Scotland, or did Jenny just wish there was one?

--How high is the mouse that spins? (My cousin Keri wrote this question two decades ago. I actually know the answer: The higher the few.)

--What is it about Fluevogs that makes them take over my thoughts?

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Baby Paradise is Fresh Papaya

Genevieve's been having a great time these days. She loved our vacation to Mexico--getting passed around, toes tickled, cheeks kissed, sung to.

And she loved all the new foods: fresh papaya every morning, pan dulce, quesadillas, guacamole, sopes, empanadas de huitlacoche (oh, that last one was mine; I truly dig that corn fungus).

This adventure of motherhood is eternally fascinating (except when it's absolutely tedious). Today, when she tried hummus, I felt a thrill imagining what a first taste of something so distinctive must be like.

I wonder, too, if she experiences frustration. Having returned to Portland, does she long for the papaya? Or does it all fade in the face of the old US standbys of oat cereal, green beans, sweet potato puffs, and veggie booty? All the more reason to return to Mexico, I guess, because there is no papaya like papaya in the sun, where you can see and smell the ocean, and where your mind spins about while rehearsing the Spanish to express delight over said papaya.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Everybody's Working for the Weekend

Yeah, I always thought that Loverboy captured the idea that "work's for jerks" best. That was until I read 40-Hour Man! This graphic novel is hilarious, recounting all the menial things we have to do and all the craziness of bosses that we must suffer through just to bring home the bacon.

My husband, Steve Lafler, drew the book, which includes masterful renditions of a Jamaican Go Go club and a Nazi statue at a miniature golf course. Congratulations, Steve!

Viva Mexico

We just returned from a quick visit to Mexico. Rather than do the whole urban adventurer route, we did the easy version and stayed at an all-inclusive resort.

Strange.

I've never seen so few Mexicanos in Mexico. That said, we pulled Maxito out of the swimming pool and baby Genevieve out of the all-you-can-eat buffet and dragged them into town, to the zocalo, which is the Mexico I know and love.

And that's when the trip reminded me most of Jenny because she and I (and Steve, or Mom) always sought out the centro, where the markets and la Michoacana and the funky calavera or gorgeous Huichol boutiques surround a bandstand. On Sunday night, the place was jumping with tamale vendors, kids pulling balloon creatures, babies snoozing in strollers, and guitarists shouting out to people from Guadalajara, La Paz, Zacatecas, D.F.

In that moment were all our other journeys to Oaxaca, Guanajuato, even small-town Melaque where Jenny did karaoke to "Eensy Weensy Spider." I can see her in my mind impersonating the karaoke host: "Bienvenidos a Cascan! Soy Ramon." And I can still see her and Steve doing their Beatles duet while I laughed.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Happy Birthday

Happy birthday, Jen!

I would have gotten you a latte and a croissant, for sure
and a card addresssed to "squeak cheeks" with some inside joke
and maybe stickers, a picture of Max, something you collect
Good cheer
Chisme
Dinners out
a new favorite book
Something collected from travels
a tiny tiny painting by J.R. Williams or Bwana Spoons or Jeff Roysden
Something in Spanish

Instead, it will be waterfalls and blue glass rocks and twinkly hair clips left hidden somewhere
some flowers, real and surreal (folded from Mexican paper)
a song you sing ("Down in the River" or "I Will Survive" or the theme from "Fresh Prince of Bel Air")
and, as always, a story about you for Max and Genevieve

I love you!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Boy in the Plastic Bubble

Remember that movie, with John Travolta? He has to be protected at all times, so he's in a plastic bubble. A strange movie, but I always think about it metaphorically for child-rearing issues.

My son, Max, is the timid type, very sensitive. I try not to overindulge it and strategize and role play with him about how to get through scary situations and conflicts and all of that. But I also don't force him into everything with that old pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps attitude (well, maybe sometimes).

So when my Urban Mamas group started blogging about true-mom confessionals, I was bothered when the original poster said that she lets some conflicts between her son and others "play themselves out".

All right, I understand that children need to learn to problem-solve, and I also know that I won't always be there for Max. Here is the issue, though. Max is meek. He quietly accepts mistreatment from other children, and rarely tattles.

Letting a conflict with Max play itself out means he just swallows the abuse, and is heartbroken later, at home. And I don't think that's appropriate. Another child's right to express his aggression impacts my child's right to feel safe.

Perhaps it's easy to forget how different children are from one another. Certain children thrive in dealing with the ups and downs of peer situations. Other children are shy, or have lived through traumas, or have been abused, and may not respond readily to these types of challenges.

After days of wrestling with these issues, I chose to write about it because I worry about the children who stay silent through painful situations. Max, this one's for you!

Sunday, April 30, 2006

May Day

Workers of the world unite!

Jenny and I loved May Day, because it was a dual celebration, one for the revolution, and the other for pagans. What's not to love?

And May was always Jenny month, because she demanded a 31-day celebration of her birthday. She'd be 37 this year, and we'd be able to speculate over whether 37 indicated mid-thirties or late-thirties (or late-mid-thirties, or early-late-thirties).

May used to mean lots of dinners out, maybe a 3-day trip to Mexico, the storytelling festival, some sunny Oakland walks, composing a Fun List with our best friend Meggie, lattes and croissants at the too-crowded tables at Royal Coffee on College Avenue, planning the next big house party (Themes: Tiki? Monster trucks? Maxapalooza?), and presents of Japanese stickers, photos, books, paintings. Here's to May 27th! Cumpleanos feliz.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Milestones

Genevieve is now 7 1/2 months, and has two bottom teeth. She sits up but loses focus and slides to the side. She still has little interest in tummy time or crawling. She loves solid foods and finger foods. This week, she has tried cheese, cut-up raisins, pasta, sweet potato puffs, cheerios, and bread. She has her screeching laugh as well as her newer giggle.

I'm not one to track milestones, but I do like to remember events, and sometimes these milestones can help trigger memories. It occurs to me that adults should have milestones, too.

Last weekend was a milestone for me. I saw my play, "Crappy at Yoga", rehearsed and it was thrilling! The actresses brought so many nuances to the characters and the lines that I marveled at the complexity that I never intended!

And maybe another milestone could be timid Max's going to martial arts class. He's 4 1/2 and so shy, but he loves to "keeeee-op" and chamber-fist-chamber-fist. Yesterday, I watched him submerge himself in the water in Penguins swimming class. It's odd, this movie of life.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

How An Obsession Begins

There I was, rambling the aisles of Winco, when I saw her. Not her, really, but what she was carrying. A purse.

It had a cartoon of an avocado on it. Perhaps the avocado had a face, giving it the kind of anthropomorphism that avid collectors of Japanese & Korean stationery appreciate.

I wanted to ask her about the bag, but her boyfriend hovered nearby with a kind of protectiveness that said, "Stop staring at my girlfriend." Or maybe it said, "I'm on meth."

I've been pining for a new bag, because my two-year-old Chiapas woven tote bag has been reduced to shreds (though beautiful pink, orange, and gold shreds). I almost got a green flowered bag at Foundation Garments, but it was made of recycled inner tubes and smelled it. I lingered over the African print bags at Target, but the handles weren't right.

This bag, with cartoon produce and what looked like charming lyrical writing, was the one. So, when I spotted the girl a couple aisles later in the bulk candy section (sans boyfriend), I pounced. "Your bag! I love it!" And, close enough to touch the bag, or grab it and run off, I saw a part of the writing: Oaxaca. "It's from Oaxaca!" I said.

She beamed. "My brother got it for me." She smiled. She knew she had the platonic ideal of a bag, against which all other bags would be measured and ineveitably fall short, causing me years of agony.

Later, unloading the box of 174 diapers from the car, I cursed myself. I shoulda just offered her cash for the damn bag because, even if I trek back to Oaxaca, a city I know well, finding that exact purse would be nearly impossible. Perhaps if I had noted the store the bag was advertising but there, immersed in the powerful smell of bulk Kisses, I had let the girl go.

So when I nursed baby Jenny at 11 that night, I turned to Ebay. The problem was I had no keyword for my bag. "Bag" and "purse" summoned nothing. I tried "Oaxaca" and "Mexico", paired with "cartoon avocado". Can you believe that got me no results?

I abandoned Ebay for Google but I found, that I often do when pairing too many distinct terms in a keyword search, that I had discovered yet another way to access a billion porn sites. Why oh why does "cartoon avocado" plus "Mexico" equal porn wonderland?

But then I had a memory. I'm walking with Jen at the Mercado de Abastos in Oaxaca. A booth of religious charms and milagros calls to us. And then, a couple aisles away, we spot two women sitting by a monton of blue corn tortillas. Jenny buys them, and they pull them out of a bag.

A beautiful bag. Sort of the shape of my Winco girl's bag. I search on "market bag" which leads to "tote bag" and then I remember the material--vinyl--and it all somehow guides me to Gringas & Company and this bag, so close (and yet so far?). It doesn't say Oaxaca, and the avocado has no face (but did I contrive that anyway?), but I emailed las gringas to ask if they have others, and I await their reply.

I may just have to haul my sorry self back to Oaxaca. Or at least to Winco, same day, same time.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Road to Fame

Since I began blogging here a few months ago, I have been invited to write for another blog, assigned to write articles for a fashion magazine (about art, thankfully, and not fashion), and, now, I have had a ten-minute play based on this blog chosen to be produced as part of "Thicker Than Water", a festival of plays exploring the dark side of Mother's Day.

My "Crappy at Yoga" piece about mommy and me yoga (and grief) inspired the play. And even though this isn't the big time, it feels big for me. I remember how Jenny never wanted to get involved in theater because she couldn't deal with all the egotism and drama mamas--so she became a solo performer! Only one big ego to deal with there. I have a similar feeling, that it is better to write for the stage than to be involved with the personalities onstage.

Part of me really is deeply hoping this isn't a fluke. What a brilliant life it would be to write plays and have them performed around the world. Someday, when I'm not embroiled in writing my terribly tedious thesis and changing diapers all day, I'm going to go on a playwriting and play-marketing binge, writing and sending out a ton of work.

Of course, I always think such ideas sound great when I am embroiled in some assigned, restrictive task. It's the "if only" syndrome. In Spanish, they have a verb form for it "si hubiera", the verb tense of regret.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Jenny's Fun Tips: Teaching by Gossip

Making announcements to groups of children is a futile task. The only way to circulate key information is by acting as if it's a big secret.

Jenny knew this. Although she had a voice powerful enough to shout over three playgrounds full of kids (and used it daily to yell "L-i-i-i-i-i-i-i-ne up!"), she more typically would sidle over to the corner of the yard and sit for a spell. She might have a piece of origami paper with her, and casually fold it into a house for her "Fourth Pig" story.

A couple kids would gather, and then more, as Jenny circled into her story, folding paper the whole time. By the ending joke, she had an audience, and that audience was her afterschool group, who she could then casually usher into their next activity.

I used Jenny's trick often in my classroom. Rather than formally begin a tedious math lesson, I'd amble over to the angry-boy-who-cries-during-math and I'd show him the teacher's manual. "Check this out," I'd say, pointing to an illustration showing the connection between addition and subtraction. "I thought you'd like it--there's pictures of food." We'd chat about it and then, suddenly, math had begun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Baby Whispering--A Day Into the Madness

THE PLAN:
I've put Genevieve on the Baby Whispering plan.

THE STRUGGLES:
At first, the whole pick up/put down process for settling her to sleep in her crib took up to 40 minutes. Now, we're down to anywhere from 3-10 minutes, and that's with only a day into this.

THE TRIUMPH (MAYBE):
Gennie went from 11pm-6:30 am last night without nursing. Unfortunately, neither my husband nor I can recall for certain if she cried or screamed excessively last night, other than a shriek session from 5am-5:45am. The level of tiredness I feel would seem to indicate that I slept very little, but my sleep-deprived brain has drained me of any memory.

THE END?
The most interesting part of this process has been letting go of the constant nursing (snacking, really) and catnaps, and, instead, guiding Gennie toward deeper sleep and fuller feeding. There have been times in the past day where she was so bright and sunny that it seemed she could understand that we were working toward this together, and that she could begin to soothe herself at night.

And I felt so pleased for her indpendence, and so sad at knowing that it's the first step of many away from me, and toward herself, and who she will become. I post on a mama blog and many mamas had conflicted feelings about encouraging a 6-month-old to sleep longer and nurse less frequently. I understand their concerns, because it's saying that a baby is ready to have some autonomy. One mama on my blog said that babies are meant to be held and snuggled all the time. I'm not so sure--I love snuggling Gennie, but I also love letting her explore beyond the boundaries of my arms.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Baby Whispering

I stumbled upon Tracy Hogg's The Baby Whisperer and have decided to give her sleep-through-the-night method a go. My daughter, Genevieve, is nearly 6 months and still wakes at 11, 1ish, 3ish, 5ish and sometimes extra to nurse, nurse, nurse.

Today is day one of the E.A.S.Y. plan--four-hour time slots of eating, activity, sleep, and you-time (during the sleeping). It felt strange and panicky to back off on the frequency of nursing during the day, but I truly look forward to easier nights.

I'll post here a couple times in the duration of this baby-whispering experiment to let everyone know how it's progressing.

Today was mostly about observing the baby's current routines, but I did implement the pick up/put down procedure. The procedure is a real struggle but, for me, ultimately better than letting Genevieve cry it out. You basically put baby in the crib for nap or night sleep and, if she cries, pick her up and speak in a monotone. The second she stops crying, back to the crib she goes. No rocking, singing, or coaxing to sleep. If she cries again, up again, then back down.

The book says that the record for repeated pick up and put back downs is 150 over the course of a couple hours...dios mio.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Two Years

Today is a good day to...
  • take a walk
  • eat a corn cake
  • jump off a bus to buy paper flowers
  • read a poem
  • hablar espanol
  • fight the good fight
  • tell a joke
  • look at the moon
  • sing an old-timey song
  • wear pajamas
  • laugh loudly
  • blow kisses to the four corners of the universe

Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Few of My Favorite Things

The two-year anniversary of the death of my sister, Jenny Makofsky, fast approaches. In honor of her delighted obsession with listing favorite things, I thought I would list some of mine.

That really big harvest moon
Cartoony low brow art in bright colors (and cheap!)
When the bed is made
Wearing black
Walking in city neighborhoods and reading the flyers
Eating interesting food
Sleeping long and late
Singing sad songs loudly
The sense that a book or a movie or a play is going to be really good
Strange happenings in everyday life
Roadside shrines

Groundhog Day

Happy Groundhog Day!

This is Jenny's favorite holiday. Mine was always Arbor Day, and I no longer have any idea when it is.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Sunrise, Sunset

A recent letter from Dr. Eileen reminded me of a strange happenstance.

It was December. Suddenly, a SUNSET magazine appeared in the mailbox, with Jenny's name on the address label. She came to Steve & I: "Is this some sort of joke?" None of us could figure out who would gift Jen a subscription to the magazine we grew up mocking, the magazine of our Nana who "archived" them in the bathroom, the pages forever wrinkling.

And then you know what starts to happen...you begin reading the damn magazine. It's like VIA or the electric company newsletter--if it happens to be sitting around when you're sitting around, you'll read it.

In August, 6 months after Jen was gone, an issue arrived with an article talking about Portland's up-and-coming art scene in the Pearl District. I was caught afire! I brought the magazine to the Lucky Lounge with me where I was meeting Meg.

How low had I stooped, bringing the magazine I once mocked to a bar? I showed the article to Meg and she said, "Maybe we should move to Portland."

So, we did. Right before leaving Oakland, I got a call one night: "Is Jenny Makofsky there?"

A chill ran through me. Who didn't know Jen had died? I said, "Sorry, do you know her?"

"It's Emily from Sunset Magazine. I wanted to know if she wished to renew her subscription."

"Oh, I'm sorry, she passed away."

"Oh! Oh no! I am so sorry for your loss."

I was so caught up in the condolences, it didn't occur to me to ask Emily how we had gotten the subscription in the first place.