At first I was sad to have forgotten my camera when we camped on the Cape this weekend, but then I realized that the pictures would have been same as last year's. There is only so much you can capture of soft sunlight, big ocean sounds, waves, the warm sand. We lay down. It was so nice to just hold his hand. Loud seagulls. A minke whale not far from shore, both of us bolting upright; dorsal fin and black back, tail, splashing smoothly through the water as the other beachgoers clustered around a hooked striped bass. We saw him again and then he was gone, and no more fish were caught.

In Provincetown we walked slowly, sun-soaked, along the main street, looked at flaming sandals, animal outfits, ate our usual seafood feast at Mayflower, loaded up on taffy and bought a 30-pound stone raven for our new place. The raven is black, 2 feet high or so, a commanding presence. We seem to buying heavy things right before we move: most recently a beautiful oak bedframe.

We slept in a little glen, pictured at the link above. It was sundappled, with soft white flowers and pine needles, and my bronchitis seemed to float away the next morning in the warm sea air. Driving back to Boston in locked traffic the next day, we could see a bank of dark clouds signaling the city.


Cat Noir

I could see the apartment through the hazy late-morning rain, over the tops of parked cars. The windows were dark as midnight, but I knew there were people inside. Inside my apartment. I took another bite of glazed doughnut and put my feet up on the steering wheel. We were going to be here for a while, the cat and I. She looked at me serenely from inside her carrier. She was content, whiling away her morning in this noticeably illegal parking spot. She should be. She didn't have to worry about what to say to the police officer who might happen to notice us parked awkwardly on the corner. "Sorry officer, it's just that all the other spots within stalking view of my apartment were taken. The cat? Oh, she's just along for the ride."

I took a slow sip of coffee. I hoped the landlord would be able to pitch the place to this potential tenant, no-pets policy be damned. It was that, or we were done for. I didn't have a cool 3k in my pocket to cover the rest of the lease.

An elderly woman in a black Dodge Omni with shiny chrome rims slowly circled the block. This was her second time crawling past the Cass Flower Design School. Was she scoping out the place? Did she have her own designs on the flower shop? More importantly, where did she get those blingtastic rims? I took another sip of coffee.

Technically, it was a decaf nonfat cappucino, but that was unimportant. The important thing was that two women were exiting the apartment, land of no pets. I hoped they hadn't noticed the two tanks of fish in the kitchen. A tall thin blonde strode toward a huge gold SUV. The SUV had a yellow ribbon magnet from the supermarket checkout line slapped crookedly on the back. I slid down in my seat. This must be Diane. Diane the realtor. We'd had many a long phone conversation. Her honeyed voice had warmed the dark & stormy nights of late May. She pulled away in her gas-guzzling oil hog. I put down my coffee and turned the key. There was nothing left to do but go inside.


Big Fish

It's really amazing to think that this 124-pound catfish lived in the Mississippi River.

I cut off my hair yesterday. It was great. I was very conflicted beforehand (about my hair and about the sheer embarrassing narcissism involved in thinking about one's hair), but as soon as Jen pulled out her scissors, relaxation; happiness.

She'd given me a great cut just three weeks before, but when I showed up yesterday she said, "It was just too long, wasn't it?" We made mopey faces at each other. "I just couldn't keep it nice," I said sadly. My hair hung past my shoulders in a rainy-day type of muddle. "Let's give you Sarah Jessica Parker's cut from Sex in the City!" said Jen. "You need something edgy."

"I don't know how that will look on straight hair," I said doubtfully, both of us looking at me in the mirror. "You don't have straight hair!!!" Jen yelled. (She actually does that, she yells. She's a firecracker. On her arm she has a tattoo of a pansy on fire.) "I don't?" I asked.

"You have WAVY hair!" Jen exclaimed. Oh!

Twenty minutes later, most of it was on the floor. "You didn't need this stuff anyway," she said, sweeping it into a big pile. "It was dead."

"It was junk," I said from under the 50's style seated domed hair dryer. My hair fringed out around my chin, curling naturally into little waves.


The Lemons

I met a lot of great people in grad school. I also met people I truly disliked. Sometime I actually enjoy meeting people I don't like; it sharpens and defines what I appreciate in the good ones. But while chasing after the advanced degree I made some acquaintances who were spectacularly bad---I mean, hauntingly bad. Like a professor who seemed to become semi-obsessed with me, then refused to let me complete my projects (at first I was great, then I was never good enough...hmmm), pressed me to provide job recommendations for him (which I did, unwisely) and eventually the whole thing ended in a bizarre twist of events including his private email accidentally gone public using a very bad word to describe me (80's one-hit wonder Bell Biv Devoe hint: "That girl is ____") ("It's driving me out of my mind...That's why it's hard for me to find..." etc.) and a series of dramatic occurrences afterward, including administrative actions taken toward him and his eventual and not unrelated departure from the institution. I was released from class with a B+, which in retrospect is a tad low for what happened, but the point is, a very bad situation for all involved. I didn't even mention the low-level revolt in class that resulted and the odd and traumatic stories about him that emerged as other women came forward.

I also met another strange person in grad school. And by 'strange' I mean, again, spectacularly bad. He was my orientation leader, and upon our first meeting he blindfolded me and led me far away from campus, holding me by the arm and speaking softly in my ear the whole time. Let me tell you, not a great "trust exercise." No one else got led into the street. He did end up encouraging me to go spend some time at the Law School, which changed my life, which is why I feel certain that he was in my life for some kind of greater purpose. I felt that even more as he became eerily semi-obsessed with me (I swear, this never happened before or since, just an awful lot in grad school, for no reason that I can tell) and followed me around. Others told me that he talked about me quite a bit. I felt a little stalked. After graduation I landed a number of interviews and one single job offer, for a crappy but overpaid position in a suburban start-up. I took it (key words at the time were 'overpaid' and 'one offer'). Yeah, this guy worked there. The orientation leader. In the end, I worked with him in close quarters for eight long months, a time when I gained about fifteen pounds and often spent lunch hour in the woods, alone, in total avoidance and isolation. I really wasn't cut out for the job.

My obsessive acquaintance didn't help matters; he acted very odd, and mentioned a number of unsettling things about his life as a father and husband. I avoided him as much as possible, but he sat directly in front of me, about eight feet away, so that wasn't always easy. God, I was happy when I got laid off from that job.

I continued to see him around; he'd sit across the room at alumni meetings and stare at me, speak about me and linger just behind or to the side of me.

Let's cut to the chase: yesterday I was at a conference in New Hampshire on writing for children. The crowd is a small but tenacious group, nearly all women, wearing wacky vests stitched with frogs and carrying handbags sewn with purple stars and whatnot. The speakers rarely look like this. Me either. I wore my new lime green Ann Taylor coat. At lunch time I was elbowing my way through the crowd, jockeying for the tuna salad and eager to sit next to someone I could talk to. It was then, as I turned past the men's restroom that had been taken over by women in doilies and wizard hats, that I saw him. He'd removed all of his hair, so that his head was gleaming and shiny. I ducked behind a woman with carrying a yellow umbrella covered in felt butterflies. Later, during the keynote, I could see him notice me, and proceed to stare long and hard. After it ended I raced down a narrow hallway to the back exit. When I turned around, he was at the other end, waiting for me. I feel like he is some glimmer of my stranger graduate school experiences; an odd kind of reminder. I feel a certain guilt in avoiding him, but everytime we talk, I pay; his questions are unnervingly personal and direct, and his actions later always make me uncomfortable. So why do I see him so much more than my other fellow alumni? Maybe Fate has an unpleasant sense of humor.

Ooo, time to take the pecan pie out of the oven and watch Twin Peaks! I love Sundays.


The Strong Hand

I've been playing euchre lately and I've developed a rough strategy that I always use even though I don't always win. The first rule of thumb is, play your strongest hand immediately. If you have a sure thing, play it. The second tier of my strategy is: call trump if you have a fighting chance. If it could be spades, say it. If hearts might make it work for you, go for it. Again, I lose a lot. But in the same way that Tetris used to work its way into my dreams, I find myself folding these rules into my life.

When driving, I follow the rules precisely: sure thing? Take it now and don't hold back. In the end, that just creates an aggressive driver. But in more subtle ways I catch myself thinking about "strongest hand" in my life. Cards is good for that. You have to decide whether to hold on to your strong cards or let them go; as a novice at euchre I believe that holding on to them never, ever pays off. In a game of cards, you have to make a decision when it becomes your turn; outside of cards, you can often quietly hold off making a decision. But I think you sometimes compromise your strongest card.

Tonight I'm taking a workshop on negotiation. The poster at my gym promises tactics for negotiating with employers, contractors, kids, spouses, car dealers, you name it. I even negotiate with my cat, and given that I frequently lose, I am definitely in need of some tips. (Actually, I believe that negotiating skills, along with entrepreneurship skills, are twin powers when it comes to class mobility. The Times reports in a wonderful study that Americans have less class mobility than they think, and less than Europeans have. It's discouraging, actually, but the article challenged me to think more vividly about the life Blue and I are living, and what freedoms we want. I've yearned for financial freedom---not wealth, exactly, but the freedom to choose what you do with your time---my entire adult life.)

Back to negotiating with the cat: this morning my very athletic husband got up before 6 for a bike ride, leaving me with a good hour or so of sleep before getting up to write. I'm tired from staying up to watch a movie that I really disliked (Adaptation) that I have to go rant about in Netflix. So I really need more sleep. Trotting on the stairs. The cat comes up. Fine. Purring. Claws on my scalp. Not great. Kneading my back. No. I push her away. The chorus of baby birds that live in our attic starts up. I push my earplugs in further. They begin yelling for food. Did I mention we sleep in the attic? Did I mention our house is on a truck route?

Pillow over head. Cat gets pushed away again. Twenty minutes pass. I'm asleep finally, completely relaxed. I'm dreaming! Suddenly, veeeery loud claws performing long scrapes on the box spring. I'm up. I'm up. I'm yelling at the cat. Clapping my hands. Cat runs away. And yet, she has won.

I may have some very specific questions in Negotiation 101 tonight.


My New Special Purple Present

On Mother's Day, I took my mom to Sears and promptly bought myself a gift. Not exactly conventional, but still appropriate: a sewing machine, heavily gendered with pastel purple accents, just to make sure men never want to sew anything. A week later, I sat down to begin the intro project that came with the machine. It was a tote bag.

I grew up sitting near my mom as she ran her machine, talking to me through the pins held between her teeth as she churned out one beautiful shirt after another. Despite the opportunity to learn through osmosis, it still took me a long time to figure out how to get the dang thread through the machine (despite the book and video). The new sewing machines are covered with little arrows and numbers to mark each step of the process. I don't like these arrows. It's still confusing, but yet designed to make you feel dumber. Machines should thread themselves; failing that, they should just be quiet and let you figure it out.

The ultimate goal of the sewing machine purchase is to make curtains for our new condo. On Saturday I browsed at The Fabric Place in Framingham, which was difficult to reach by car but filled with helpful staff and great fabrics. I came home with swatches and samples of beautiful fabrics (raw red silk, dotty tan, science-illustration shells and flowers), which we held next to color chips and the floor plan I drew. So far I plan on making these curtains (V7922, F), which look a lot harder than the tote bag. And have I mentioned that so far I've sewn one single seam, and it was crooked? Sigh. I used to make my own skirts and shirts, but maybe there was something special about my mom's magic machine, with no purple, no arrows.

Blue thinks I get flustered when I try to do something I think my mom did well; that I enjoy it, but it's an uphill climb that doesn't really need to be uphill. He's probably right, so my next sewing session is going to include less pointless anxiety. I'm going to take it one stitch at a time.

In other news: So, this McSweeney's guy (and his new book) sure got a lot of love from the Times Styles section yesterday. He seems like he has it in good with someone over there. Cause I'm not really sure why else you'd write about that book.

File Under: Books You Never Want To See Your Boss Reading
How to Live Well on Less Than You Think
Yeah, it was on her desk the other day. Maybe if we weren't in a funding crisis I wouldn't have cringed when I saw it, but as it was...
I'm cringing.


Reasons why so long no post:
+cared for godson
+parents visited all weekend (very cold & rainy, but fun)
+day at Bentley
+for a conference on social ethics in business (jesus christ)
+but did get to hear Joe Kennedy speak
+next day, conference at Harvard on MIT's new literacy initiative
+spent last night drinking with colleague and her husband, a Christian minister, as he sang along to Bob Marley at annual work party at Museum of Science (by far the best work party ever, anywhere)
+must work on my new story (9 yo boy + goth teen girl + rats living in cemetery = kids will eat it up!)
+must finish this CSS/MT integration on my new website
+must get the colors right, pronto
+must then sew curtains with new sewing machine
+after learning how
+must pick out paints and fabrics for new place!

Posts I'd like to write:
+Revealing one's age does nothing but hamper power, communication and connection. I think I may stop revealing my age altogether.
+So often, people do and/or say whatever is easiest (credit to Jonathan Safran Foer reacting to his negative Times review). It is stupid. It is destructive. When people lack the ability to self-critique and then make adjustments, it makes it harder to respect them, I think. Whether at the business school at Bentley, the education school at Harvard, or in families, I hope above all that people challenge themselves. People should be open to rigorous critique and change, internal and external, and then, for god's sake, they might grow!
+Compassion. Lack of it. Me. Not unrelated to above topic. I find that the more of life, the more I see how possible it really is to teach yourself and to change. So now when bad things happen to others, I feel profoundly as though, "that could have been avoided." Or, "well, this is something that's been designed for years." Or, "yeah, if you put yourself first all the time, the people around you are going to suffer." It's a tad scary to suddenly feel this conservative.
+The cat. So fuzzy. Tail so long.
+My dream the other night. We saved a chunky puppy, a Newfoundland, I think, and then I had to give her to a very cold mean person who claimed ownership. Sad. I think I need a puppy!

Time to attend to all those "musts."


At least she can't lose her brain

So, you know how Paris Hilton lost her cell phone, her dog, and that pesky tape of her having sex? And how celebrities are still griping about how they had to get new cell phone numbers because their old ones were plastered all over the web? OK, now she's lost her laptop. It's just so funny. I think it's especially funny because we suspect she's dumb, despite all the PR about her brilliant business savvy, but now we know she's dumb. We all lose things, but not that many things.


Building an Empire

I had a very old-school bourgeois weekend. We went to Somerville Open Studios on rainy rainy Saturday and bought art for the new place. Real original art! Us! It's a tile of a Virgin Mary under wax with a fortune: Nice things are coming to you in the mail. The next day, we bought (Blue bought) me our first piece of Italian designer furniture. I'm very excited about it. It's a disappearing bookcase.

All this and I even learned euchre.