Why I'm a blogger

This has been kind of a wild week, which is why there's been such a glaring lack of good posts. My dearest friend here is leaving to spend three months in Santa Fe, and with her and her husband go my godson, whom I adore. He's almost ten months old, and lots of fun. I've spent plenty of good time with him, and with her, this past week, and on Sunday will do the kind of thing that makes you take measure of your friendship. Peaches and I are getting up at 4:30am on Sunday to drive them, the baby, and their two big dogs to the airport. Several years ago, I had a bad experience with a Harvard professor, and my dear friend stepped up to the plate (where did that sports analogy come from?) and went to bat for me (aa!); he got fired, and I've been indebted to her ever since. Next time you see someone in trouble, and you have the wisdom and experience to save them, stop and think: do you want this person to be indebted to you for life? Do you want someone so committed that they will devote entire weeks to you? Do you want them to get up in the middle of the night to drive you to the airport?

Of course, her husband introduced me to my amazing boyfriend, and then named me godmother of their amazing child, so I owe for more than the rotten professor.

This week has also revolved around the discovery of old things. On Tuesday morning, D., who was busy making arrangements for our upcoming trip, asked me for my passport. I looked for it in the desk drawer of my new desk. Then I looked in the drawer of my old desk. Then I looked for it in my file cabinet, which was actually two drawers piled maddeningly with unknowable pieces of paper. I still couldn't find it. So I looked in my closet, where I had stored two not-yet-unpacked boxes after our move (one year ago). These boxes, too, were filled with bits and scraps, photos and little poems on lined paper. Miniature books I made for myself. Self-portraits from my adolescence and things that used to be taped to my walls in high school.

An hour later, I remembered that when I painted my old desk, I took everything out of it and crammed it into yet a third box, which I then shoved under the guest bed and promptly forgot. Sure enough, there was my passport, amid poems and letters, family pictures and tickets to events that I could not remember.

My life is very well-documented. In fact, you could say that my living occurs nearly simultaneously with my recording of this living. This is what I found out during the next few hours, and then two days later, when I finally managed to transform unmarked boxes into real drawers, with real hanging files, and real themes to each folder. I even created a folder called "Mementos" and subfolders called "Keep Forever (?!?!)" and "Found." As in, found on the ground. Am I a packrat?

The most alarming aspect in all of this is the idea that I haven't really changed, at least in the last twelve years. My high school newspaper/zine, of which I was co-founder and editor, was essentially in the same style that I appreciate now. My detailed photographs of my high school bedroom closely resembled the study in which I write these very words. On Wednesday, I laid in place the plans for the summer wedding of a friend of mine. We were friends in high school, and before and after; now I organize her bachelorette party. She, too, has changed & not changed; our friends are not so far gone from that core they feared in adolescence.

So here we are. I am 26 & 14 at the same time, and I look at the future a little differently now, but mostly, I think, because I know what I have always been like. There is something strange about how consistently, astonishingly self-searching I turned out to be, but had I fully realized this, I would have known that I would, of course, become a blogger. There amid all the images and memories, all the files still waiting to be filled with memories from the future, is some fundamental question. Just one question, I think, but it is enough to drive this blog.


Found conversation
from yesterday

"I don't want to be at the beginning of everything."


In the morning

Her eyes are wide as full moons, and she balances on the toilet lid, swishing her tail from side to side as she belts out meows that sound more dark and sinister than usual. Her whole face is tensed and focused, so that every black and brown hair seems to stand at attention. Along the ceiling, a spider skits, unaware of his sharp-clawed stalker. For every movement he makes, there is a mirror in the cat's face, her neck cocking at a slightly new angle, her unblinking stare reflecting nothing more than a spider on the ceiling. Later, while on the couch, she sleeps, her muscles clenching and unclenching in violent dreams, her paw sweeping towards something that is always just out of reach.


Runaway Bunny

My godson, Dash, is nine months old and has five copies of Goodnight Moon. I gave him exactly none of these copies, knowing he'd be flooded. But I have always considered it a deeply comforting story that illuminates the core of security and love. Writing for children, as I am learning with every day that I work on my own children's book, is no easy task. In fact, delivering complex literary concepts in a simple, clear style is actually harder, I find, than writing essays for adults.

Today is the birthday of Margaret Wise Brown, who wrote Goodnight Moon and the equally wonderful children's book Runaway Bunny. She had a long and remarkable career as a successful writer for children, and was revolutionary because she developed stories about children's lives, rather than recreating fairytales. Her writing philosophy was based in new theory on early childhood development from New York's Bank Street Experimental School.

It's widely said that she actively disliked children, but one website devoted to her says that actually "there were individual children she enjoyed," which kind of supports, in its own way, the idea that she actively disliked children.

Brown lived a flamboyant life, befriending royalty and traveling widely. For much of her life, she had a long affair with a woman named Michael Strange. Brown was engaged to marry a Rockefeller the year she died from an embolism. She was 42.

Thanks for the moon, Margaret.


Two truths and a feeling

I like to read other people's blogs almost as much as I like to write in this one, but sometimes it can get strange. I find it gets especially strange when there are comment pages where readers can respond to the blogger's posts. In my life, I have gathered only a few nuggets of true wisdom, but they are true as rocks. For instance, Nugget #1: If there's one thing you can learn by watching Jerry Springer, it is to never let another woman live in your house. The odds are high that she will eventually pursue, and possibly get, your man. Talk shows bear this out time and time again. Similarly, for every single blog I've seen that has a comments feature, there's been an instance where readers have said something that spurred the blogger to post something in response. Then the readers respond again, and others chime in, and eventually the blogger gets mad. I'm not sure why, but it's true. Every time.

Anyway, the writer of one of the blogs I read regularly has been oddly distressed lately, and it's not clear if it's at someone particular, or a reader who left a comment, or just because she has her own problems. And it's a warning about knowing too much of someone's life, because it's stressful to read now, but as a reader, I have no responsibility for, or impact on, her life. In blogging, no one is sure what the consequences are. She's just writing. And who knows exactly what's going on? She's a good writer, but very emotional, which I find makes for great reading, but poor Internet interaction. Anyway, that's probably that for me with that blog, which shall remain nameless in this entry. Not because it's bad, but because it's too hard to follow someone freaking out when you can't pinpoint the cause or identify the goal of the entry. Good thing I never freak out in my blog! Well, except about being out of work. And not following through on stuff. And not knowing what I want to do with my life. Oh, never mind.



Now that I've finally sucked myself out of the ridiculous universe of the Radiohead message boards (!!), which I stumbled across for no clear reason, I am free to report on the oddities of McLean. Gorgeous old brick buildings, but in disrepair despite the fact that they are inhabited. I walked to the building from my car, all the while thinking, "but all these people look so normal!" When I've visited people in lockdown wards before, no one looked normal; everyone looked crazy. But, I guess McLean is not a lockdown ward, just a nice place to start feeling better. There's not even a guard or a front gate. I remember when I first was in Cambridge, I used to think, "but all these people look so normal!" about Harvard students. But then I worked for Harvard, and then became a Harvard student myself, and I never looked normal, which is not my point. Anyway, Harvard, McLean, all the same.

I was grilled for twenty minutes about any past indiscretions like drugs or therapy, Breathalyzed (they are serious about you being sober in the afternoon), urine-sampled, and then I filled out about 6 thick questionaires, which took maybe an hour. They also tested my lungs for carbon monoxide. Which was surprisingly hard (try holding your breath for 30 seconds and then exhaling for 20 consecutive seconds!). I messed up the Breathalyzer thing too; I guess you're supposed to put this plastic thing into your mouth and blow, but I thought you were just supposed to exhale gently in the direction of the device. How was I supposed to know?

The questionaires started out rather normally: "Have you ever had heart problems? Has anyone in your family ever had heart problems?" and got stranger and more complex: "Are you a worrier? Does worrying run in your family? Do you worry yourself silly?"

Some were kind of poetic, so I secretly wrote them down:

Are you considered
a clumsy person?

Do you feel sad and alone
at a party?

Does worrying
get you

Does every little thing
get on your nerves
and wear

True or False:

-Drinking makes it
to concentrate
on the good feelings
I have at the time.

-At times drinking
is like permission
to forget

courtesy of the Neuro Imaging Center.

Today's Plan

So, today I will make $50 at McLean Hospital, where I will be screened for two hours for a medical study. Yes, it has come to that. Well, not really, but it's still depressing. They are running a drug/alcohol/pregnancy test on me; I asked if I could have a glass of wine the night before, and they said, "sure, but you have to be sober when you come for the appointment." Well, of course, I said, the appointment is at 1:30 in the afternoon. I'm generally sober during the day. I laughed, but he didn't. At the end of the interview, he said again, "Be sure to be sober!" I laughed, but again, he wasn't joking. "Kinda tells you something about their clientele," snickered Lizzie, who'd been waiting patiently with the baby while I finished the phone call. Great. Maybe I'll make some new friends.

If all goes well, I'll get another $100 for strapping electrodes to my head while sitting in a reclining chair.

I'm not actually depressed about the new medical-study career I seem to be fostering; I'd say instead I just have a morbid curiousity about one of the most famous insane asylums of all time. Think Girl, Interrupted. Think Sylvia Plath. Think Ray Charles. Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, James Taylor. And even the designer of McLean, Frederick Law Olmstead, spent some time cooped up in there, due to his being a mad artist. And I bike by it all the time, and always wonder.

But I do feel depressed about the context in which I am doing medical studies for pay. I called my former workplace yesterday about a job I applied for two weeks ago. The job was as a researcher and writer, and I got so excited about it...more excited about a job than I've been in a long time. And I got all these deans to call and vouch for me, and I felt...I don't know, hopeful? And things were good, and I was productive. But yesterday, I finally called the director of HR there, the woman who first hired me when I was fresh out of college, and she told me, kindly, that it didn't look good. "You're a technology person," she said, and my heart sank. They want someone with years of experience in international security issues, and apparently having a background in international cyberlaw research and a strong fascination with security issues doesn't cut it. "You have a good resume," she said, "and we have more jobs opening in the next month than I care to admit." But I don't want another fucking job, I wanted to tell her. I wanted this one.

It's so weird and hard to be lost in the job market and not know what you're doing. And to have so many jobs that you don't want. What am I supposed to do with that? I looked at Jayson Blair's student website this morning, and was struck by his resume. It was so focused. Sure, look where it got him, hardy har har, but I'm smarter than that. If I wasn't so perpetually scared of being a spectacular failure, maybe I would pursue a nice clean straight line of work, too, one impressive job after the other, and not explode in a ball of fire like he did.




My email isn't working today; they say it might take another day. It is amazing how cut off from things I feel because of this, and how really, it means: I'm free to go work, write and think.
Deer bound

Biking for 41 miles yesterday up and down Cape Cod on an old rail road line, past children just learning to ride their bikes, past a big deer bounding across our path, past a coyote with a coat the color of brown leaves and pine needles, who watched us from the woods. His coat was as silver as dusk. Our bikes are skating across sand and hot asphalt, off the bike path now, and suddenly we're on a bluff with the wide blue ocean beneath us; when columns of white water become visible in the distance, at first I don't believe that they could be whales, but they are. Water blasting through blowholes, a big group playing all afternoon, making thunder sounds underwater with leaps and long sighs. From right to left, it's a clean horizon. On the way home, we pass underneath a hawk, high above us on an electrical post, his fierce masked eyes watching, it seems, each year of our lives.



Gosh, I know I never post on weekends, but can I just take a moment to applaud Watertown yard sales? We got five kitchen chairs today for $10 each, which is amazing for decent wood chairs. The set of four are in pretty good condition, but the fifth chair, a loner that I quickly adopted for my study and am sitting in this very moment, is curvy, hand carved, sanded, and gorgeous. Talk about a chair with character!
Trucker Hat Mania Officially Over?

Oh. my. god. New York Times today:"A Hat That's Way Cool. Unless, of Course, It's Not." What a scream!
Begins the article:
Nathan Ellis, a 26-year-old publicist with spikey black hair, remembers the exact moment trucker hats really started to annoy him. It was at a party in a Lower East Side bar in February given by the owners of Colette, a Paris boutique.

"I scanned the room and I could count 30 or 40 hipsters wearing trucker hats," Mr. Ellis said. "You could have closed your eyes and thrown a stick and hit a dozen foam caps at any given point of the night."

Says a 21 year old at a strip club:
"Dude, those hats are so six months ago," said Mr. Navarre, who had just finished his shift as a chef at the Lovely Day restaurant. "Every kid with Nikes and a trust fund is wearing them."
As the look became popular, the way the trucker hat was positioned on one's head became a code in itself. Although not everyone agrees on the details, according to one street authority, a hat that is cocked up to the right means the wearer is from Williamsburg, one pulled down and to the right signifies a gay man from Chelsea, pushed up and to the left represents the Lower East Side, and down to the left is for arty areas of Queens like Long Island City. (Women from all areas generally wear their hats pulled down flirtatiously over one eye.)
Well, maybe it's far from over, now that I think about it:
Now, trucker hats with campy sayings like "Washington Is for Lovers" can be found at large retail chains like Diesel, Hot Topic and Urban Outfitters. The first trucker-hat shipment arrived at Barneys New York three weeks ago; the hats cost $35 apiece and display images of vintage Mexican playing cards. And the Gap plans to start carrying the hats next winter.


Actual quote from Geraldo Rivera, age 59, on the age of the woman he will marry this summer: "She looks 14, but she's actually 28." Witness.

Ick. I think I understand why it's his fifth marriage.


1. I biked 36 miles yesterday. One loop through Concord/Carlisle, three times, 12 miles each time. 19 roadkill each time. New roadkill between second and third loop. Possum.

2. I lust for vanilla Rooibos tea. It is from a bush in South Africa. It is a loose tea, with no caffeine. I love South Africa, don't you?

3. I don't really want a job at all. I like this. I am great at not working!

4. On June 1st, my gym membership will end and my friend Lizzie will be off to the desert for three months, taking my tiny sweet infant godson with her. Do you know what I do during the week when I want to be happy and feel great? See Lizzie and my godson. Failing that, I hit the gym.

5. June could suck.

6. Then again, I will be on va-cay with the B.F. for ten days in the beginning of June, and will then promptly start my class. And shortly thereafter my little brother will graduate from high school, and then after about a week or so I will turn 27, which sounds very young and very old all at the same time.

7. I sent my pug story to morningnews.org AND Mcsweeney's, but haven't heard back. However, I sent a poem to The Ride, an Arlington, MA magazine about bicycles, and they wrote back, like, ten minutes later. I don't like New York City very much, and I don't really like New York publications. Well, OK. Right now I don't feel like I like them.

8. I have been working on my website. If you are reading this far into this list, you deserve to extend your websurfing, no matter by how much silly writing and awkward design (oh! disclaimers everywhere! enjoy!): http://www.criticalmedia.net. Also, please and thank you, I very much want feedback; so email to me here: [cgpF94(at)hampshire.edu] It really is still in progress.

9. I feel like this week is designated Attack of the Amazon Parents. Well, my parents aren't doing very much, just not responding to my emails and all that. Who cares, really. Right? They have better things to do. Right?

10. But my in-laws? Wait, I'm not married, so I don't have in-laws, but oh, they're giving me a headache anyway. I mean, how can four people haunt one relationship so much? How can that be?

11. Don't worry. I'm sure we'll work through it. That or I will snap.

12. Just kidding. But, sometimes parents rely too heavily on their own children for their identity, and then their own children choose partners who they love, and then sometimes parents practically lose it for fear of losing said child, and therefore said identity. So let me ask you: Is the solution to this that the child's partner also become part of the parent's identity, even though this hypothetical partner would rather that the parent stop relying on offspring for a sense of identity? Is partner just setting herself up for a lifetime of woe by resisting? I mean, keep in mind, the partner wants to support her man, plus she wants her man's family to know her and like her, plus she wants to know them and be friends with them, even family with them. But how available does she have to be? Really? Is it really wise to continue down the set path? Or is there no other choice? She does not know, let me tell you. She is at a loss!

13. Also, her own parents. They deserve more than an item on the list; they deserve an entire personal essay. She is working on it.

14. Alright, no more third person.

15. Final item: I am having a hell of a time with browsers!! Using IE, over time browser began going to a different URL than was input. In fact, it was frequently one website in particular, the site of Arca Max, which I have never knowingly and intentionally visited. So, I'd type in correct URL for New York Times or Salon, and then my browser would go to the site of Arca Max. Or sometimes it would go to Salon when I requested the New York Times. And I couldn't get it to work no matter how many times I hit "reload." So finally, I download a new version of IE; actually the same version, but v. 6.whatever, at any rate. And it works. For a week. And then just now, trying to get to this site so I can post, where do I find myself instead? [Warning: profanity] Fucking Arca Max!!!

Solutions requested at your earliest convenience, please. Meanwhile, I shall appeal to the goddess of Smooth Surfing on the Internet. And the Goddess of No Health Care, too, while I am appealing to goddesses.

16. Sigh.

Down With Trucker Hats

Gawker has been developing a great collection of venemous commentaries about the Trucker Hat phenomenon (in which indie rockers, especially in New York, don Trucker Hats as if they were the very key to all that is Cool and self-identifying). My grandpa wore trucker hats, but that's because he was a construction worker. It's only annoying when it is on a 23-year-old trying desperately to establish his New-York-ness, perhaps anti-Blue-Collar-ness? I didn't care this much about indie fashion until a friend from New York showed up here in Boston wearing a trucker hat turned inside out. Then I realized the whole thing had gone much too far. Anyway, here's a reader idea far better than mine.

I love that "Gay or European?" thing the reader mentions; I used to have a tough time of that, especially when I was single and it mattered. "Is he gay? Or just British?" And I mean that fondly.


Are you sick of these Garrison Keillor postings yet?
I don't know why, I just find them fascinating.

It was on this day in 1804 that Lewis and Clark set out from St. Louis for the Pacific Coast. William Clark wrote in his journal, "Rained the fore part of the day. . . . I Set out at 4 oClock P.M, in the presence of many of the neighboring in habitants, and proceeded on under a jentle brease up the Missourie. . . a heavy rain this after-noon." The group traveled up through the Dakotas, through Montana and across the Continental Divide, and finally down to the mouth of the Columbia River. When they spotted the Pacific, Clark wrote in his journal, "Ocian in view! O! the joy." Thomas Jefferson was president at the time, and wanted to find out about the land he had just gotten through the Louisiana Purchase. Jefferson was also interested in Native American culture, as well as western plants and animals. Lewis and Clark's party was well-stocked for their journey: they brought clothes; guns; medical supplies; a traveling library that included science and reference books; mathematical instruments; and loads of camping supplies, including twelve pounds of soap and 193 pounds of portable soup -- a thick paste made by boiling down beef, eggs and vegetables. They also brought gifts for Native Americans, including silk ribbons, ivory combs, 130 rolls of tobacco, vermilion face paint, 144 small pairs of scissors, and twelve dozen pocket mirrors. Lewis and Clark identified 178 plants and 122 animals that had never before been recorded for science, including the grizzly bear, which often chased the group across the plains and mountains. Lewis wrote, "the curiosity of our party is pretty well satisfied with respect to this animal."


Body & mind

Hurrah! I signed up for class today. I realize that it meets during the middle of the day, yes, but my hope is that this is an investment in my career, so it is NOT the opposite of having a job. I did have several panicky moments today where I realized I was not going to be able to afford health insurance, even though all I want to do is camp and bike all summer and my knee and chest and ankle start hurting for no reason whenever I start thinking about not being able to have coverage and even though I've never gone to the ER or broken a bone, I'm convinced it could happen at any minute. Isn't it strange how one must be vouched for by a job in order to keep the body vital? I had many opportunities today to reflect on the price of my mortality.

Probably the genuflecting happened because I spent all day writing an essay about the summer I spent living in Chicago. When it's 3pm and you haven't been outside, it's time to go. I am off to the gym and to babysit my very small, very cute godson before he spends the summer in Santa Fe. Maybe I should write an essay about him spending the summer in Santa Fe.

Maybe not.


Peter Pan: Sadder Than You Thought

It's the birthday of the man who created Peter Pan, playwright and novelist James M. Barrie, born in Kirrimuir, Scotland (1860). He introduced Peter Pan in the story The Little White Bird (1902), and then in the play Peter Pan (1904). When he was six years old, his fourteen-year-old brother, David, died in a skating accident. Barrie realized that David would forever be remembered as a young boy and later created the character of Peter Pan. When Barrie was an adult, he knew a little girl named Margaret who called Barrie her "friendy." But she couldn't pronounce her "r"s so it came out "Fwendy". She died when she was six. Barrie put her in the story, and called her Wendy.

Cite: Garrison Keillor's Daily Writer's Almanac, which now makes frequent appearances in these pages.


How to Discover If You Have the Pug-Love

1. You are in a pet store in which the puppies are allowed to run around freely after a certain hour. You feel a soft paw near your foot, and you look down only to see a pug puppy sitting solemnly in his bed. You pick him up.

2. As you hold said pug puppy, as you squeeze his barrel chest and as you look into his huge rolling eyes and at his hanging tongue and stubby feet, he looks back at you. Into your eyes. Deeply. And he drools.

3. Later that night, for the first time, you tell your boyfriend those very special words: "I want a pug."

4. At times, when you are sick or otherwise moody, irritable, or generally down, you think about piles of pug puppies, and you instantly feel better.

5. You invent fictional pugs, name them, and refer to them freely. You decide you have three.

6. For instance, you and your boyfriend are seated at opposite sides of a small wooden table inside your kitchen. You are both eating breakfast. You say, "If Frisky were here he'd probably like this leftover pancake." Later, while bicycling, you say, "You know what Mr. Bubbles likes to do most? He likes to play in the yard by himself." While you are showering in the morning, you shout out the bathroom door, "Arthur has a new friend down the street. He is a dachsund named Skippy!"

7. Throughout your whole life, you have always wanted to have children. One day, you read an article in Salon about motherhood. The article cites research studies showing that couples with kids argue eight times as much as couples without them. It says that women who don't have to hurt their marriages, put their careers on hold or make massive financial sacrifices for the sake of having kids can be very happy. Your first thought is, "Well, if I don't have kids, then I can have that many more pugs. Maybe I can have ten pugs."

8. Later, you calmly reach the decision that you still really want kids, but you now also want ten pugs.

9. In fact, you already have names for your seven new fictional pugs.

10. And Mr. Bubbles has never been happier.
Dang! Last night I had this great idea for creating a cat's litter box that would eliminate the whole "scooping" process. Since one of my life goals is to own a patent, I checked the patent office first thing this morning (isn't the Internet wonderful?). But, sure enough, someone thought of it and even made it slightly better: check it out. Dang!


Also, it was approved on Sept. 11, 2001, which seems....odd? Or merely coincidental? Think about it.

Anyway, dang!!


Another interesting, if terribly sad, note from today's Writers Almanac, issued daily by Garrison Keillor:

Piotr Tchaikovsky was born today, the most popular Russian composer of all time. He wrote symphonies, operas, and three great ballets: Swan Lake (1876), The Nutcracker (1892), and The Sleeping Beauty (1889). Tchaikovsky was a homosexual, which was officially illegal in Russia at the time. Under pressure, he impulsively married a young music student. The marriage was a disaster. Tchaikovsky had a mental breakdown, attempted suicide, and left the country. He wrote his brother from Florence: "Only now, especially after the tale of my marriage, have I finally begun to understand that there is nothing more fruitless than not wanting to be that which I am by nature."

The Ride

The week after we got back
he handed me a roll of handlebar tape
and said
I've been building you a bicycle in my basement
but you don't have to ride it

we took our first ride together a month later
it seemed like my thighs were exploding
he'd look back and smile on an ascent
call me a mountain goat
and I'd pull hard on the handlebars
legs bursting with fire
and smile back

over the year, he taught me how to ride like we were in a team
if he was in front,
he'd point at things to avoid
potholes, roadkill, shattered glass
I tried to do this too, but sometimes
pointing out fiddleheads in the forest,
two deer by the road,
we'd pass a coyote watching us
and I'd forget to point out the pothole

As time passed I learned
to be in front,
seeing a broken glass on the pavement means
point and say
watch out
and behind me he says thank you

On a steep climb
he swings in front of me for a "tow" to the top
and I latch on with an imaginary line
staying two feet behind him,
watching the back and shoulders that I hold at night
the power of a tow to the crest

my cousin comes into town with her boyfriend
they rent a tandem bicycle; they are happy.
I ride with them, on my little silver bike, each part
each bolt and wheel
an act of love
over dinner she says
why don't you get a tandem
she says
then you could ride like a team


Learning Spanish, or, Why I am Not an Engineer

It all began when I was eight years old. It wasn't so much about the addition or subtraction, which I could handle in small doses, but about the Unknown. Namely, those larger numbers that had to be sliced into shreds by other, scarier numbers, and left to die or try to survive in uncertain decimals. It was like war. Fear of long division was like fear of death. I would lie in bed at night, feeling a pit of fear in my stomach, unable to fall asleep. My mother would sit down on my bed and rub my back. "It will all seem better in the morning," she'd say. "At night everything seems worse, whether it's the fact that you don't have any friends or that you have to do long division for the rest of the year." I could always count on Mom to make everything alright. Problem was, it wasn't "long division" to me. It was "división larga." Because as if crunching the numbers wasn't hard enough, my endearing and yet overzealous parents had enrolled me in a Spanish immersion program, the only experimental program for the gifted and alienated children of my public school. I couldn't fit the bill better, so into the program I went. It was known around the district as the "Primary Acquisition of Language" program, but to us kids it was just called the "PAL" program. "PAL," as in buddy, chum, old friend.

In fact, this particular little experiment was a brand-new pilot program in the district, and was friend to no one, as we would soon learn. It had never been tried before Señora Sanchez took twenty grumpy, English-speaking schoolchildren under her wing. The most inspiring aspect of this program was that not only did we have to learn math in a foreign language, but History, Art, and every other subject got taught in Spanish, too, with no actual Spanish lessons. We left that infernal classroom for one half-hour every day, to be schooled, ironically, in the subject of English. That was the happy time. I loved reading, especially in a real language. Hey, I liked other subjects too, when they were effectively communicated. "Matemáticas," however, represented the enemy: the whole cadre of teachers, administrators, and school nurses who sent me home with pounds of foreign books about numbers, packed to the rafters like a burro being led through the Andes, only to slip off a cliff-side trail when my fellow hikers weren't looking, and fall, hoofs flailing, to my doom.

As far as I was concerned, "matemáticas" meant "misery" in the language of School #12. Or maybe it just meant "hell" in Latin or Olde English. I didn't know, and at the time, I didn't care.

In my clearest memory from that schoolyear, the class was taking a break as I stood next to my desk. While my schoolmates roamed the room, reading Spanish texts and playing with Spanish toys, I was busy giving off a kind of pathetic and desperate cry. It was as if I was a whale and my distinctive sonar was a high-pitched, unpleasant sound that made other kids put their hands over their ears. Tears rolled down my cheeks. Señora Sanchez looked cooly out at me from behind her corner desk. She had some child on her lap. Some stupid, happy, smiling child, no doubt learning poetry or physics in some new romance language. I hated being eight.

"¿Cuál es el problema?" she asked reluctantly, and as often happened, I had no idea what she was saying. If she'd been willing to communicate in English, the universal language, the language that children all across the globe learn in normal classrooms with normal teachers, then perhaps I'd be able to respond. Instead, I just sat back down in my seat and slumped forward with my head on my desk. Eddie Manchester was still in his seat, next to mine. "Got something to cry about?" he barked out of the side of his mouth, and then laughed. Eddie was only eight years old, but he was built like a steam engine. Shameeka sat in front of him, tall, lean, and dominant, and together they made up my private team of tormentors, like personal superheroes, except just the opposite. They found it particularly asinine that I read books in English, especially in front of them. They also caught on early to the fact that I could be easily made to cry.

"None of your business," I told Eddie under my breath. The truth was, I wasn't sure why I was crying. It could have been because everyone except Eddie and Shameeka were communicating in a language that for the life of me I couldn't understand. Or perhaps it was because I had an all-consuming crush on alpha-male, blond-haired, blue-eyed Nate Robins, or because it was obvious that he, in turn, "liked," in the vernacular of elementary school, my resident look-alike, Amelia.

Most likely, the reason why I was crying involved the sheet of paper in front of me. It was covered in numbers, bars, and long division. It was exactly the monster that kept me awake at night. And it was waiting for me on my desk. Tentatively, I wiped away my tears and picked up the pencil. Fifteen minutes later, I was finished, or had at least tried to solve the long list of problems. Señora Sanchez came over to inspect my work. "Esto pudo necesitar un poco más trabajo," she said, and patted me on the shoulder. "What?" I asked. Eddie chuckled to himself.

Decades later, I finish playing a game of Scrabble with my boyfriend and promptly seize the list of scores, determined that, given enough time, I can add the long rows of numbers and find out who won. Unfortunately, throughout the rest of my schooling, I slowly unlearned what little matemáticas I had managed to grasp under the Señora. After our class, the pilot PAL program was squelched and never resuscitated, and I went on to a gifted and alienated program for nine-year-olds in which I learned everything in English, the universal language in which everyone can communicate. I had self-esteem, friends, and a new take on life. But I never really had math. In a Scrabble game, I have to wrestle the scores away from my boyfriend, who was voted "Most Valuable Player" on Math Team in his senior year of high school, an honor for which he actually received a varsity letter. Counting on my fingers, I add up the numbers for our Scrabble scores. "Uno, dos, tres, cuatro..."


This american life

Saturday: Crammed into seats in a narrow tunnel-like auditorium with dark wood walls, there was Ira Glass far down on stage, past the second balcony where we were, past the first balcony and the floor seats. What does it take to get on stage, I think, but then he is a genius. Very funny when he messes up, very young-and-clever-looking and already with a Great Legacy; he has created an empire of emotionally powerful radio; he has listeners who trust him. He must be so fulfilled, I think to myself. But I wonder. Found Magazine is there, very funny, and finally Sedaris is on stage. He tells a story that is hilarious, about being gay and 12 and very crafty, until it becomes sad, and then heartwrenching. The audience is comprised of a variety of NPR listeners, but mostly people who look vaguely like me. I wonder what they think of this spectacle, this throwback to pre-TV, this remarkable collage of stories and cultural remnants (comics, litter, old buildings, singing together). I wonder if they wish they were onstage too.

The next day, biking through Concord, there are horses everywhere. Two brown grazers and a white pony in the grass; a palomino, standing; an appaloosa on its side in the dust. I can see them through the tall pines.

Everything we want

grocery store run
where we
touch everything we want and can't have
peach candy that makes us sick
angel food cake covered in frosting and red white and blue sprinkles
two fingers on the plastic, and a slow look
before the cart gets pushed away


Now that's a career!

This is from today's Writer's Almanac email, issued by Garrison Keillor of Minnesota Public Radio:

It's the birthday of one of the most famous monarchs in history, Russian Empress Catherine the Great, born Sophie Auguste Friederike in the Prussian province of Pomerania, now part of Poland (1729). When she was fifteen she was married to the 16-year-old Grand Duke Peter, heir to the Russian throne. He was a sickly youth who played with toy soldiers, and Catherine was bored and miserable. She had many affairs, and she later hinted that her husband hadn't fathered any of her three children. Peter became Czar in 1761 when his aunt Elizabeth died, and he immediately began to offend the Russian people by refusing to mourn the dead empress, whom he had hated. The country began to sink into chaos, and at the end of June 1762, Catherine conspired with the army to have her husband arrested, and he died in a scuffle with his guards. In order to show that she now led their country, Catherine borrowed an old green army uniform, and rode out to meet her soldiers on a white horse. They wept and cheered at the sight of her. As the ruler of Russia, she encouraged the humanities, helping to promote book publishing, journalism, architecture, and the theater. She sponsored the first school for girls in Russia and established a system of elementary schools, all of which led to Russia becoming one of the most important cultural centers in Europe.

Happy Birthday, Catherine the Great! In honor of your work, I took a 20-mile bikeride this morning through rolling Concord, past magnolias and forsythia, hyacinths fragrant on my hard ascent up the hills. I will meet my infant godson and my dear friend this afternoon to talk and eat, and I will go to a party tonight for someone who just now defended his PhD. I saw a turtle in a stream this morning Catherine; thank you for leading the people.


Office Space

-----Original Message-----
From: J.
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2002 2:57 PM
To: Development
Subject: RE: Formatting

Please EVERYONE, IMMEDIATELY DELETE this e-mail, the one it is replying to, and the attached document, and EMPTY the Deleted Items and Recycle Bin!

I'll explain at our meeting Wednesday.

Thank you,

Never mind that he (my boss) sat three desks in front of me, with no partition, and could have turned around and explained right then instead of in 48 hours; or that I was only on my third month on the job, and trying very hard to do well; or that the email he was replying to was this:

-----Original Message-----
From: Cedar
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2002 2:47 PM
To: Development
Subject: Formatting

Hi there! I have a quick favor to ask. I am just trying to get a concrete little text together about how we format our work--just a step-by-step manual, really--and I was wondering if each of you might very quickly skim this list and let me know if there’s something I’ve left out? I learn more about this process with each course I do, but I counted at least thirty steps, so I’d like it to be very clear and in front of me so that I don’t forget anything.

Thanks so much for your help!


It seemed so innocent at the time. Little did I know that about 45% of our “formatting steps” infringed on someone else’s copyright, which meant that steps 8-20 were explicitly documenting illegal behavior. Funny; is THAT why they never actually taught me how to do everything, preferring instead to criticize me when I did everything wrong?

Sure, I found all this out when I walked up to his desk and shakily asked why he’d demanded that every trace of my email to the group be wiped from every hard drive. After all, I had spent days on a project that I surely would have rewarded had I been manager. But no, I was told to forget the instructions I'd written ever existed.

I should have written back, though. I can see it now:

From: Cedar
Sent: Monday, September 30, 2002 2:67 PM
To: Development
Subject: Formatting

Please DELETE any email from this boss IMMEDIATELY and GET UP from desk. GO DETOX BRAIN from mind-numbing office work. GET OUTSIDE, relax in the sunlight, try to RECOVER self-esteem. When Boss requests work of you, IMMEDIATELY DELETE any gesture he might make to repress your initiative or sense of self-worth. Promptly DISAPPEAR when Boss begins telling long boring story re: wife's airline meal or re: son's car trouble. When situations demand that you sit in front of computer, QUICKLY open Internet browser and read SALON or NEW YORK TIMES. Try to maintain sense of INTELLECT and HUMOR. Above all, DO NOT ever write ANY instructions.


This seriously is an email I sent out today.
Date: 01 May 2003 10:20:51am
From: cedar@crawlspace
To: hopefulindependentfilmakerwithstipend@someonespersonalwebsite.com
Subject: short film

Hi there---I saw your ad for actors (even without experience) needed to act in a short Twilight-Zone-esque film. I've been in a few short films by friends when I was student, and in plays when I was in school, but it's been a few years. So I don't have any headshots or formal experience or anything. However, I thought that I could be a decent bored housewife if you haven't already cast her. Here are a couple of pictures from the past few months in which I think I project "bored housewife" pretty well. Good luck!

Because really, I actually AM a bored housewife, kind of. I don't know what's more pathetic, being a bored housewife despite not actually being anyone's wife or responding to a craigslist posting advertising stipends for inexperienced "actors." Or maybe it's having a disturbing amount of digital pictures in which I look tired and cranky. Did I mention that I am trying not to watch any daytime TV this week? It's really not as easy as it sounds. However, at least I have something to think about: We're planning a trip for early next month in which we: leave the car in Portland, ME, spend four days biking 180 miles up the coast of Maine, camp for four nights in Acadia on Mt. Desert Island, and then hop onto a ferry bound for Novia Scotia. It sounds great, doesn't it? I can't wait, except for all the biking. I need to spend this month training! I should be on my bike right now!! What am I doing on this computer??