Sunday, October 26, 2008

If you buy a gal dinner . . .

So, I'm feeling a little used these days.

I was initially okay with just buying her dinner without expecting her to come in afterward. She was shy, nervous, a little unsure. I got that. I thought, "She'll come around eventually. She'll be so blown away with gratitude for how much I do for her, for how patient I've been. One day she'll invite herself in, rub up against me, snuggle up for a while. And then, who knows? Maybe stay a while?"

But it's not happening like that at all. She still just expects me to drop what I'm doing whenever she needs me, yet she offers nothing in return. A girl can only go without affection and appreciation for so long before it's time to say enough is enough. I think it might be time to end it. I have my pride after all.

And the thing is, I know she's been seeing someone else all along. I've known that for weeks now, but did it stop me? No. So I had this coming, didn't I? I know where she sleeps at night, and it's not at my house, it's at this other woman's house.

Yet when she sits outside my kitchen door, patiently waiting for me to open it, it's hard to walk away. She's just too dang cute to be ignored.

And besides . . . I still have one more unopened bag of cat food. But after that, I'm calling it quits with Buffy. I mean it.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Talkin to myself

Y'know that Carpenters song? Rainy days and Mondays?

Well, I've been thinking about it today, and not because I feel down but because I wonder how soon I can expect to start scaring people in public by talking to myself.

I took Ivan to Starbucks yesterday morning for milk and a (ridiculously expensive) donut (that was dry and of which he only the edges) since we had time to kill before I had to get him to preschool. We sat in a couple of chairs by the window and chatted about his siblings, how he slept the night before, and what he wanted to name the stuffed dog he was taking to Show and Tell. We settled on Barkley since his favorite book right now is a Sesame Street collection. Trust me on this: Ivan is a fabulous conversationalist. He doesn't just talk about himself: he asks questions about your day, about what your favorite number is, about who your favorite couple is on Dancing with the Stars. (He favors Brooke and Derek, by the way.)

And it's a good thing he's such a good conversationalist because he's the person I exchange the most words with in the course of any given day.

Lately--since moving into a new neighborhood where it feels like everyone's been here forever and that they therefore don't need anyone else on their buddy list--I'm starting to worry about becoming the person in the corner of Starbucks who can carry on a perfectly fascinating dialogue by herself. As Ivan and I sat there yesterday, an older man (though not much older, so my time may come sooner than I expect) was eating his breakfast alone while staring out the window. He finished and then stayed seated and decided to have a little chat with himself. I couldn't understand a word he said, although he was speaking plenty loudly enough for me to hear him. I looked for the little earpiece that would assure me he was just on the phone, but nope: no earpiece. My older brother would have gotten up and gone to sit with the man just to see what he was talking about, but I'm not nearly so brave. I wasn't worried about my safety or anything . . . just my future.

As I headed up to the preschool to pick Ivan up this afternoon, I was walking quickly, my hands shoved in my pockets while I worked out a plot knot I've reached in one of my stories. Often when I reach these knots, I talk it out with Ron as my sounding board. He doesn't necessarily offer any suggestions, but just being able to say aloud what's going on helps me unravel it a bit. I didn't start talking to myself on the way to school, but I was tempted.

And when I'm thinking about a storyline, I tend to be a lot quieter than usual. So by the time I got up to the school, I wasn't in the mood to try to make conversation with the myriad of mothers there--none of whom I know yet by name. I was afraid I'd lose the ideas I'd just come up with. Opening my mouth might make them fall out of my head and then I'd have to start all over again.

So I wondered, do these women think I'm shy? Unfriendly? In my old (and much beloved) neighborhood in Pittsburgh, there were days I thought, "Do I have to go outside today and make friendly chatter with people? Am I allowed a day off?" But now that most of my days are days off, I worry (that word again) I'm going to get a little too used to this. I worry I'll have more days of absolute silence as I'm waiting for Ivan to come out of his classroom. I worry I'll start to become curmudgeonly before I hit 50 and that I'll limit all of my conversations to those with my children and occasionally my husband. I worry I'll be sitting in Starbucks 10 years from now, working out those plot knots aloud because I've stopped noticing there are other people around who might not think that's normal.

Monday, October 20, 2008

I'm a keeper

Last night after his bath, my 3-year-old came streaking down the steps naked (as all the best streaking is done) to find me and tell me he wanted me to put his clothes on for him. His father was upstairs already, and normally I would have sent Ivan back up with instructions to hand his underwear and pajamas off to Daddy. But I was at a good stopping point in a paper I was editing, so I stepped away from the computer and chased my son up the steps and into his room.

After he was fully dressed and decent again, he smiled and said, "I want to keep you."

Which is a pretty good thing, I think, considering the fact that I don't know a lot of other kids out there who would take me on at this point. I've been busier than usual, trying to tackle new editing clients (not literally, of course, although I've had one or two that require me to wear a football helmet so I won't damage my head on the table as I bang away) while still writing, revising, and submitting my own work. The house isn't fit for company any time soon unless they want to clean it themselves, and we've lived off the same pot of chili for the past 5 days. With Ron out of town now, we're looking at a few evenings of cereal, apples, and popcorn for dinner. Mother of the year I'm not. Nor wife, nor housewife, nor editor, nor writer, for that matter.

But my 3-year-old wants to keep me. So I have job security. For now.

And such periodic affirmations remind me that regardless of how soul-sucking the world of writing I'm trying to break into can be (numerous exceptions aside), it will never define who I am.

Friday, October 3, 2008

BB Review #3: In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak

I'm on a roll.

Okay. I hope that picture is small enough not to offend any of you. And if it's not, then it's time to get out your kindling and matches and join the others who have banned this book for its NUDITY!

Maurice Sendak, for anyone who slept through childhood, is the author of Where the Wild Things Are and illustrator for the Little Bear stories (some of my favorite childrens books EV-er). His book, In the Night Kitchen, has been officially banned in a number of states around the country due to "gratuitous" nudity of the little boy in the story who falls out of his clothes on the way to the night kitchen and is put into batter to bake. He pulls himself out, scolds the bakers, insists he is not the milk, and then helps them by pouring the real milk into the cake: "And that's why, thanks to Mickey, we have cake every morning."

The pictures are anatomically correct, in case you're wondering.

After my 3-year-old son was potty trained, I happily gave away our Once Upon a Potty book for boys out of pure relief that we were done with diapers. That book has anatomically correct illustrations also, by the way. But it's not banned anywhere as far as I can tell, probably because the nudity there is not "gratuitous." But if anyone has ever been around a toddler for more than 15 minutes, you know that for a child this age, clothing--not nudity--is gratuitous.

I read In the Night Kitchen twice in a row to my son this morning just to see if he noticed the five full frontal illustrations of Mickey and the several backside illustrations. Nope. He just loved the story, and I have an appointment with him at naptime to read it again.

Now whether he understood the story is a completely different issue. I'm not sure I understood it. But as an English major, I can bluff my way through a discussion and give you several different interpretations if you'd like. My favorite high school English teacher, on whom I had a monstrous crush, told me in 11th grade that what the author intends a story to be about is irrelevant. What we, the readers, get out of it is what matters.

So I could say this book is a children's version of Pink Floyd's The Wall. It's a bizarre sequence of events that makes sense only on drugs--or in a dream.

Or I could say it's a warning story of the dangers of baking in the nude (without an apron).

Or I could take Mickey's line--"I'm in the milk and the milk's in me"--and say this book is a vaguely veiled preschool lesson in existentialism.

Or I could say it's the story of a little boy who hears a sound in the kitchen and instead of being afraid, he turns the nightmare around to his advantage and becomes the hero, the one we must credit with the cakes we have for breakfast every morning.

And now I'm thinking about cake.

Over on, I found this recipe for Knock 'em Naked Cake.

And if you're naked and eating cake, you may as well try this one: Better than Sex.

But my favorite cake ever is right here. It's technically a steamed pudding and a tad labor intensive, but SO worth every second, every bite, and every calorie.

Steamed puddings make me think of home. My father's favorite was chocolate. This recipe has been in our family for generations and I'm sharing it with you now:

Steamed Chocolate Pudding:

3T cocoa
1C sugar
1T shortening
1C buttermilk
1t soda
scant t baking powder
1 1/2 c flour
pinch of salt
1 t vanilla

Steam for 1 1/2-2 hours. I use a special insert in my crockpot, but you can use a double boiler or a cake pan set in another pan filled halfway up with water, then bake it in the oven at 350. Not sure how long it would take that way, but significantly less than the crockpot.

Then for the hard sauce, which you can't have the pudding without!

1 box powdered sugar
1t vanilla
1t melted butter
2 lg. egg yolks (I don't know how to find your way around this one)

Eat, enjoy, and, for heaven's sake, go put some clothes on.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

BB Review #2: Little Black Sambo by Helen Bannerman

That's right. #2. I'm so proud of myself.

When I was in college, I took a children's literature course. And, sorry, Professor Whose Name I've Forgotten, but all I remember about that class were 2 books: Little Black Sambo and Love You Forever. And the only reason I remember those two is that I did a presentation on them: why LBS should not have been banned and why LYF should be.

First for a re-cap of LBS.

Helen Bannerman wrote this book in 1899. She was a Scot who lived in India for 30 years. The Preface of the edition I have--dubbed as "The Only Authorized American Edition" and without a copyright page--says, "Once upon a time there was an English lady in India, where black children abound and tigers are everyday affairs . . ." Let me interrupt the author right there. Black children abound. That's the first controversial line, in my opinion, of the book. Two sentences in and we hit it. Bannerman wasn't referring to African children, to our modern-day association of black with people of African descent. She was referring to the dark-skinned Southern Indian children. Is the terminology offensive? If so, why?

And, wow, just so much could be said and speculated about at this point concerning what her own prejudices may (or may not) have been. Then we could move from that topic to that of what our own sensitivities are and/or what they should be. Is the offense in the writing or in our 21st century interpretation of the writing? Can we separate this book from its historical context, and does leaving it IN that context make the book any more acceptable? Was "Sambo" a derogatory term before the book was written or only after (opinions vary)? Does it matter? If it's derogatory and inflammatory--whether in 1899 or 2008--is this a book suitable for our children? Will they understand, believe, think it's okay to use "Sambo" when you're telling a 19th-century story but not a modern one?

I suppose we could talk animal cruelty as well. Tigers may very well have been an everyday affair, but the British pasttime of hunting Tigers for sport at that moment of history certainly has to take some credit for the fact that tigers today are an endangered species. Sure, it took another 100 years to put them on that list, but does it matter whether you kill the first 1,000 or the last 1,000? Gone is gone, regardless of the order in which they disappeared.

I enjoy the story, but I admit the controversy makes me uncomfortable.

Speaking of discomfort: my favorite book to hate, Love You Forever. Robert Munsch, it's not personal. I loved Paperback Princess and Alligator Baby and Good Families Don't. But I have to admit I would be quite happy to see LYF disappear from shelves permanently. I'm not advocating banning it or burning it, but hiding it whenever I walk into your house would be greatly appreciated.

I was at a neighbor's yard sale two weekends ago and she was selling the paperback version of this book. My first thought was, "Ew. Put it away." My second was, "Well at least she knows enough to get it out of her house."

Sure, it's a popular book and Munsch has sold more copies of it to more weeping mothers than I could ever hope to sell of anything I ever write. I stopped counting the number of times women in tears would come to the counter of my father's bookstore, several copies in their hand, and say, "Have you read this? Isn't it the sweetest book you've ever read?" No. That was always my honest answer. No.

It makes me uncomfortable. It makes me squirm. It makes me want to scream at the mother climbing the ladder into her son's bedroom AFTER HE IS GROWN AND MARRIED, "Stop! Climb back down! Go home and get some therapy! It's time to let go!" And then when her son goes to her in her old age and holds her on HIS lap? My urge to keck (look it up) is so great that I can hardly even write about it without ruining my keyboard. There's a reason I'm not repeating the popular verse from that book here. I can't. It is physically impossible for me to convince my brain to convince my fingers to punch the letters in the particular order that would land them here on this blog page.

Someone said to me, "You'll understand when you have children of your own." Well, I have four children now, 3 of them boys, all of whom I love and adore and stare at while they're sleeping. But I promise you and my husband and them that I will NOT creep them out by sneaking into their bedrooms when they're in bed with their spouses so I can cuddle with them and rock them to sleep again on my varicose-veined, support-hosed legs. I won't. And if they dare try to put me on their laps when I am too old and senile to care? Oooooh, buddy. Amityville will have nothing on the kind of haunting I'll visit on them after I die.

I'm not the only one out there who feels so strongly about this book, right? Right?