Mother’s Day 2014

I know so many hard working moms. Single, married, partnered, complicated. Holding the family together, raising their kids, earning money, making choices, afraid of the future, working toward the future, blowing it, drinking wine, reaching for a hit o’ that if you would, trying to be better than their own childhoods, trying to be half as good as some moment they remember, crying over mom, wishing it were different, knowing it’ll never be different, buying their own mom something to keep her feet warm, dancing to Thrift Shop, dancing to Major Lazer, spitting wine when they laugh, purple teeth, a weakness for just one more pair of boots, a weakness for booze, a head for philosophy, concerned with social justice, hoping to save the bees, reaching out, taking care of children they didn’t give birth to but you’d never know, they will forever love them like their blood, and why not? So many moms screwing up, sorting it out, getting it right, letting their hearts open. I could go on with this list forever. Happy mother’s day, everyone, wherever you fall on the continuum, even if you’re the man in charge, the man who is the dad. Oh, hell. Even if you’re Jonathan Franzen, who thinks “Love your mother” is the worst environmental slogan ever, because he has a hard time with it. Let’s take care of each other, and of this place, what we’ve got. xo

On work and writing

I’ve worked at Burger King.
I’ve been a secretary.
I’ve worked as support for home health care, typing up admit forms of symptoms for the dying, one after another eight hours at a time.
A waitress and a hostess,
I’ve sat at the bar, eating my free meal, once the rush ended.
Walked home in the small hours, late night almost morning.
I’ve made deli salads on a large scale, stirring in the mayonnaise, the noodles. The chopped chicken bits.
I’ve made sandwiches. “None of that grass, on there!” the old rich geezer used to yell at me, his name on half the buildings downtown.
And I’d slowly lift a handful of sprouts, just to see the color rise in his
very pale face.
I’ve been a clown
and a professional cake cutter.
I’ve worked in art installation, driving the van, Art4You,
decorating law offices, beach condos, telling them where to put the
stork sculpture, the big painting, the work to match the couch.
I’ve hung art for major car dealers, the names you see
around license plates.
As an underwriter, I’ve seen the stories credit history tells,
medical records, grades.
The backside of the life story.
There’s more. There’s always more.
But mostly, I’ve been writing, the whole time.

What art does…

“What art does is to coax us away from the mechanical and towards the miraculous. The so-called uselessness of art is a clue to its transforming power. Art is not part of the machine. Art asks us to think differently, see differently, hear differently, and ultimately to act differently, which is why art has moral force. Ruskin was right, though for the wrong reasons, when he talked about art as a moral force. Art is not about good behaviour, when did you last see a miracle behave well? Art makes us better people because it asks for our full humanity, and humanity is, or should be, the polar opposite of the merely mechanical. We are not part of the machine either, but we have forgotten that. Art is memory—which is quite different [from] history. Art asks that we remember who we are, and usually that asking has to come as provocation—which is why art breaks the rules and the taboos, and at the same time is a moral force.”

—Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson & me, AWP.

Jeanette Winterson & me, AWP.

Travels to Tulsa

I use the plagiarism checker at Grammarly.com because “reuse and recycle” works to help the environment, but maybe not your English assignment or your glorious novel-in-progress.

 

A Beautiful Thing

I’ve been thinking about the book tour I went on recently with Chuck Palahniuk and Chelsea Cain, the three of us in our pajamas, telling stories. The first place we brought this rendition of the show, Bedtime Stories for Adults, was a public library in Tulsa.

It’s a library that’s closed for the next two years, ready to be demolished and remodeled. Without any books, it was a beautiful though dystopian setting.

It was the library of some terrible future where the Native American Resource Center had no resources, only rows of empty shelves.Tulsa Native AMerican

One central wall was graced with golden letters proclaiming the eternal value of books! It was a quote–maybe most of a speech–called “The World of Books,” by the author Clarence Day. In his words, “…Monuments fall…Nations perish, civilizations grow old and die out and after an era of darkness new races build others but in the world of books are the volumes that have seen this happen again and again…and yet live on…still young…”

Tulsa Lib World of booksYoung or old, there weren’t any books in the building. They were gone.

If they were living on, it was in storage.

But we brought our books, and read and met the audience and had a party. Because the building was scheduled for demolition, we had permission to invite the audience to write on the walls. Chuck invited them to write things they wanted to let go of, things they were ready to have demolished.

In the documentary, “Kicking the Loose Gravel Home,” by Annick Smith, the poet Richard Hugo talks about “putting words on the page to amuse” himself. He says, “That’s writing…”  In the most fundamental way, that’s what writing is.

On the walls of the Tulsa library, people wrote a lot.

Some wrote in ways that weren’t about letting go at all, but about celebrating the moment, having a fleeting voice. We all want to let go, and we want to hold on.

They wrote names and wishes and the word “love.” They wrote curses, obscenities and prayers. “Cunt” came up with a little too much redundancy, and “taint” seemed to be a crowd pleaser, but I was more interested in all the big dreams articulated, and there were plenty of them. It was beautiful. There were people who wrote about the extremely personal drama of struggling with health concerns, and life. Others wrote about public drama–and by public, I mean things like Breaking Bad. That public: on TV.

Tulsa Library Wall 2

Now, a month later, maybe the building is entirely different inside, gutted and in rubble.  Hopefully it’ll come back around and be a fantastic place full of books and events. Books will live on, still young! Or not. Either way, for now, we have our memories, and they’re good ones.

At least there’s that.

Cheers, Tulsa! So glad to meet you!  An honor and a privilege, just to be alive.

 

A poem for the day.

Efficiency Expert

Hire a man
To say the way to cut spending
is to pull back on health care
Hire the same man
to say
Increase administration.
Hire this man
To have a permanent on-going
place in your drowning institution
And the efficiency you’ve found?
It’s fast:
Everything has gone to hell.

Kind words from Zia McCabe, of the Dandy Warhols & Brush Prairie xoxo

ziaWhen pregnant Monica moved in across the street from me, pregnant Zia, I saw a potential companion in a black neighborhood we were both gonna be blamed for gentrifying–artists who risked turbulence in exchange for cultural diversity and an affordable mortgage. When she brought me her book, Clown Girl, and I gave her 13 Tales from Urban Bohemia, it represented the new version of the old 1950’s home baked goods, a welcome to the neighborhood by trading gluten free art. Clown Girl made me laugh out loud. Thank god it was pre lol, because I had no intention of abbreviating my experience. Years later I’m honored to receive the neighbor/fellow artist copy of The Stud Book. I feel no pressure to reciprocate or critique. I’m just a privileged neighbor. This time I’m part of the landscape, the fabric this tale is woven with. The geography, the culture, the characters are even more familiar than before. Monica’s track record is good with me. She’s edgy, honest, absurd…She puts blood ‘n guts on a domestic plane. No zombies, no spies, nothing out of a fifteen block radius. As a vintage sci-fi enthusiast,  I’m used to far out things happening far way. This time a lot of the fun was envisioning it all happen in my neighborhood with characters I could give real names to having problems me and mine have all had.  Life in the Portland micro. I love it.zia2

Photos from Zia’s Facebook page–because they’re amazing.

A Perfect Planet

OMSI is running way late in opening the planetarium doors, parents are yelling at staff, the line is out of control and a staff person says,”Hey, we’re all adults here!” He looks maybe 20. At least half if those in line are under 10.

 

On the way to see “A Perfect Planet,” about how nice it is to live on Earth.

Hillbilly Bread Factory

In the 1970’s we took a field trip to the Hillbilly Bread factory, a place where everyone had a job and the world smelled like fresh baked bread, a warm place in the middle of a blizzard-marked winter. I was in grade school in Michigan. Serious women in wispy hair nets ran the machines, everybody dressed in shades of blue in my memory. After showing us the factory, a representative gave each child a fresh loaf of Hillbilly bread to “take home.”

None of those loaves made it home.

We opened our bread bags on the bus back to school, smashed gummy white bread between our grubby palms until it was half the size, or tore light, fresh pieces into small strips. We handled that white bread until it was dirty and we ate until it filled our stomachs, bloated against our eight year old ribs. It was the best. Each one of us ate an entire loaf.

Mmm…

Now I see Hillbilly Bread seems to be a subsidiary of Aunt Millies with the slogan, “At Aunt Millie’s, we bake more than bread–we bake memories.” So true! I remember that as one of the best field trips ever, even if we all overindulged, ate bread until our stomachs turned to knots, ate light and lovely bread until it was heavy in our guts.

These days everyone I know is swearing off gluten. We have gluten-free crackers, gluten free pizza, and it’s kind of crazy. What’s gone wrong with gluten?

We were once gluten gluttons, I know, I know.

Today my daughter and I swung by a bakery–she’s the age I was, in the days of Hillbilly Bread–and bought a loaf of homemade Italian. She told me it was good, swore I’d like it. She offered me a sample at the bakery and I waved it away, though bought the bread for her anyway. It was for her, for this skinny kid.

At home, I broke my gluten-free binge. This Italian bread is chewy and light, marked with bubbles, and springy. It welcomes a slather of butter.

It’s time to pull out the cookbooks, the old James Beard, Beard on Bread, the book my mother gave me back when she moved out, when I was a junior in high school, the year I learned the drive a car, the year I was freezing, the year I had to drop out–the year I baked bread so many nights, to stay warm in a cold house, when the snow piled against the windows and the furnace had no oil.

My daughter and I? We’ve eaten half the loaf, this evening. We’re overindulging, watching movies, ready for the first day of a new school year tomorrow, third grade looming large. I remember that day of Hillbilly Bread, how young I was.

Inside that cookbook my mother left me with, she wrote, “For we hope that your life will be full of many things as good and pleasurable as homemade bread. Love, Mom.” That was Christmas. Then she packed the car, collected together my sister and brother, and together they drove away, west, before New Years.

Bread is still good, and yes, somebody is baking memories. xoxo